United States v. Virginia Case Brief

Facts of the case

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) boasted a long and proud tradition as Virginia’s only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution. The United States brought suit against Virginia and VMI alleging that the school’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional insofar as it violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. On appeal from a District Court ruling favoring VMI, the Fourth Circuit reversed. It found VMI’s admissions policy to be unconstitutional. Virginia, in response to the Fourth Circuit’s reversal, proposed to create the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) as a parallel program for women. On appeal from the District Court’s affirmation of the plan, the Fourth Circuit ruled that despite the difference in prestige between the VMI and VWIL, the two programs would offer substantively comparableeducational benefits. The United States appealed to the Supreme Court.

Why is the case important?

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was the only single-sexed school in Virginia. VMI used a highly adversarial method to train (male) leaders of the future. There was no equal educational opportunity to that of VMI in the State for women.


Did VMI represent a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?


Yes. The Fourth Circuit’s initial judgment is affirmed.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (J. Ginsburg) stated that Virginia has shown no “exceedingly persuasive justification” for excluding all women. “Benign” justifications offered in defense of absolute exclusions will not be accepted automatically. The notion that admitting women would downgrade VMI’s stature and destroy the school’s adversity system was hardly proved.


The Court opined that in cases of official classification based on gender, the proffered justification must be exceedingly persuasive that the burden of justification was demanding and rested entirely on the state that the state must show at least that the challenged classification served important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed were substantially related to the achievement of those objectives that the justification was genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation and that it did not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.The Court held that Virginia failed to satisfy its burden of providing an exceedingly persuasive justification for its sex-based admissions policy or that the policy was substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.

  • Advocates: Paul Bender Argued the cause for the United States Theodore B. Olson Argued the cause on behalf of Virginia et al
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Virginia
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Virginia Military Institute
Citation: 518 US 515 (1996)
Argued: Jan 17, 1996
Decided: Jun 26, 1996
United States v. Virginia Case Brief