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Justice Department Says ‘Women’s VMI’ Would Perpetuate Bias

May 26, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration is seeking an end to the Virginia Military Institute’s 150-year tradition of educating males only. It told the Supreme Court on Friday that creating a ``women’s VMI″ at another school only perpetuates sex bias.

Justice Department lawyers said Virginia’s plan for a leadership program for women at Mary Baldwin College is as unequal and unconstitutional as the segregated educational opportunities once offered to blacks and whites.

A federal appeals court in January upheld the proposed program as an acceptable alternative to admitting women to VMI, a state-supported school in Lexington, Va.

The federal government sued VMI in 1990, saying the college unlawfully discriminated against women.

Lower federal courts ruled that the male-only policy violated females’ equal-protection rights. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved as a remedy a ``substantively comparable″ program at Mary Baldwin, a liberal arts school in Staunton, Va.

``The court’s remedial decision actually compounds the original constitutional violation by invoking harmful gender stereotypes to justify offering vastly different state-supported leadership programs for women and men,″ the government’s Supreme Court appeal said.

The court is not expected to say until sometime in its 1995-96 term, which begins next October, whether it will grant the appeal and review the appeals court’s ruling.

Virginia Attorney General James Gilmore III said, ``I am optimistic that should the Supreme Court decide to hear this case, it will see no need to disrupt this unique educational opportunity for women.″

VMI’s program for 1,300 cadets emphasizes physical rigor, mental stress, absence of privacy, minute regulation of behavior and indoctrination of values.

VMI and The Citadel in South Carolina are the nation’s only male-only, state-supported military colleges.

At the Citadel, Shannon Faulkner is attending day classes but has not be allowed into the school’s corps of cadets. Federal courts have given officials an August deadline to either admit Ms. Faulkner to the corps or provide an alternative.

In the appeal filed Friday, government lawyers noted numerous differences in the programs at VMI and the proposed alternative at Mary Baldwin.

The appeal noted a 1950 Supreme Court ruling that struck down ``an assertedly `separate but equal’ remedy for black students denied entry to the University of Texas Law School because the opportunities extended exclusively to whites at that school were superior to those the state afforded to blacks.″

The appeal added: ``Where segregation is by sex, the presumptive requirement of equal treatment is no less applicable.″

The case is U.S. vs. Virginia, 94-1941.

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