United States v. Virgina

Following is the case brief for United States v. Virginia, Supreme Court of the United States, (1996)

Case summary for United States v. Virginia:

  • Virginia’s Military Institute was only open to men for the purpose for teaching leadership skills through implementing the adversarial method in both civilian and military service life.
  • After its male only policy was challenged, a court held that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause, so the school constructed a sub par sister school for women.
  • Since the school was unequal in funding and academics, the initial male policy was again challenged in addition to whether or not the new school remedied the initial equal protection violation.
  • The Court held that the policy was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection clause, failing the meet the necessary level of intermediate scrutiny. In addition, the Court held that the additional school did not remedy the initial violation because it failed to offer women an equal opportunity at leadership.

United States v. Virginia Case Brief

Statement of the facts:            

Virginia’s Military Institute was a higher education institution which only permitted men to attend. The school trained these individuals in leadership to be implemented in both their military service and civilian life through the “adversative method.” In response to the school’s refusal to admit women, a court ruled that the policy violated the Equal Protection clause. As a result, the school implemented an additional program specifically for women – Virginia Women’s Institute for leadership. This program fell short of actually being equal, as it contrasted the men’s school academically, methodically and financially.

Procedural History:

The circuit court held that the gender-based classification was unconstitutional and that constructing a second school for women would remedy the issue. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, who granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Gender classifications by the government must substantially relate to an important government purpose that is demonstrated by the government when it offers a constitutional justification for the classification.

Issue and Holding:

Does the Virginia Military Institute’s policy excluding women violate the Equal Protection Clause? Yes.

Does establishing a new school specifically for women remedy the violation? No.


The Court held that the institution’s policy prohibiting women was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.


The Court set out that the gender classification must be reviewed under an intermediate scrutiny level of review. This means that the government must provide an exceedingly persuasive justification for implementing policies that discriminate against a sex. The Court acknowledged the Inherent differences which exist between men and women and state that they  may only be used to remedy a history of sex-based discrimination against women and promoting  equal  opportunities in employment. The court specifically pointed out that such discrimination based on sex is not to denigrate members of either sex.

Here, Virginia has failed to show a persuasive justification for the exclusion of women from its leadership program.  The Court rejects the school’s argument that constructing a single-sex school furthers the important government purpose of keeping diverse public education institutions

The school was not founded on the principles of promoting diversity, this is clear through its policy of excluding women.  In addition, the school claims that the “adversative method” of training provides educational benefits which cannot be made to women without modification.

The school fails to state a reason as to why their goal of training competent leaders cannot extend to women. When considering the offered evidence, the school falls short of establishing the “exceedingly persuasive justification” standard which is required to sustain an implemented classification based on gender.

The Court further points out that the school created specifically for women is substandard when compared to the men’s program because it fails to provide a meaningful educational alternative for women who want to attend the men’s only Virginia Military Institute.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Rehnquist):

The majority was incorrect to add a requirement that the government offer an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for gender-based classifications. This requirement is inconsistent with the long standing standard of intermediate scrutiny. In addition, constructing a women’s only equivalent school does not remedy the unconstitutionality of the classification because it prevents women from having the same equal opportunity at leadership that men do.

Dissenting (Scalia):

The majority’s decision disregards history, tradition and precedent.  Completely ignoring evidentiary findings that physical differences in strength exist in men and women equates to overlooking a justification for requiring them to attend different schools.


United States v. Virginia sets out the appropriate level of scrutiny for gender-based classifications as the “intermediate scrutiny” test. Under this test, the government must prove the classification is substantially related to an important government interest.

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