In Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court explored the applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause within the context of admissions and gender. In a five-to-four decision, the Court held that officials at the publicly funded women’s university, in denying admission to a male nursing applicant on the basis of his gender, violated the Equal Protection Clause, because the admission policy was not substantially related to a compelling governmental interest. The Court also reasoned that exemptions provided to single-sex institutions within the text of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 did not exempt university officials from compliance with constitutional obligations. Hogan stands out as significant, because the Court relied on it in subsequent gender admissions cases in higher education, including, perhaps most notably, United States v. Virginia (1996), in which it found that the Virginia Military Institute’s refusal to admit women violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Facts of the Case
Established in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1884, Mississippi University for Women (MUW) historically limited its enrollment to female students. In 1974, the university instituted a four-year baccalaureate program in nursing. Five years later, the plaintiff, Joe Hogan, applied for admission. The plaintiff, a registered nurse in Columbus, Mississippi, did not possess a bachelor’s degree. Although he otherwise met enrollment requirements, the plaintiff was denied admission to the nursing program on the basis of his gender. Officials at Mississippi University for Women informed the plaintiff that he could audit courses in which he was interested but could not enroll for credit.
The plaintiff filed suit in a federal trial court, arguing that the nursing school’s single-sex admission policy violated the Equal Protection Clause. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, deciding that maintaining MUW as a single-sex public institution bore a rational relationship to Mississippi’s stated interest in providing the greatest practical range of educational opportunities for females.
On further review, the then Fifth, now Eleventh, Circuit reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court was of the opinion that because the admissions policy discriminated on the basis of gender, the trial court improperly analyzed the case using the rational relationship test rather than the higher intermediate scrutiny standard. This higher standard of review required the state to carry the more substantive burden of demonstrating that the gender classification was substantially related to an important governmental concern.
On rehearing, the university argued that through enacting Section 901(a)(5) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which provides some exemptions from Title IX’s gender prohibitions for single-sex institutions, Congress expressly authorized officials at Mississippi University for Women to continue the single- sex admission policy. The Fifth Circuit rejected that argument, pointing out that Congress could not authorize states to continue practices that otherwise violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court’s Ruling
In 1982, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s judgment in an opinion authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The majority determined that Mississippi University for Women’s single-sex admission policy violated the Equal Protection Clause and that Title IX’s exemptions did not nullify constitutional obligations owed by the university.
At the heart of its rationale, the Supreme Court ruled that the case should have been analyzed through the frame of intermediate scrutiny, not the lower level of rational basis scrutiny, because the admission policy discriminated on the basis of gender. The Court was thus of the view that university officials were required to demonstrate an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for the gender classification that served an important governmental objective. In addition, the Court expected officials to show that the single-sex admission policy was substantially related to achieving the aforementioned objective.
The record reflected that Mississippi University for Women’s primary objective for maintaining the single-sex admission policy was that it compensated for prior discrimination against women, thereby constituting educational affirmative action. Yet, the Supreme Court posited that Mississippi made no showing that women lacked opportunities to obtain nursing education and training. Rather, the Court interpreted the exclusion of males from admission to the nursing program as perpetuating the perception of nursing as the exclusive province of females.
The Supreme Court added that the policy also failed the second prong of the equal protection test, noting that Mississippi did not demonstrate that a gender-based admission classification was substantially or directly related to the proposed compensatory intent. Instead, the Court observed that allowing men to audit classes, but not enroll for credit, undermined officials’ claim that separating the genders benefited female students. The Court quickly dispensed with MUW’s Title IX argument, finding it unclear that Congress intended to exempt Mississippi University for Women from any constitutional obligation through Section 901(a)’s exemptions.
In his dissent, Justice Powell argued that the case required only rational basis analysis, not intermediate scrutiny, because it was grounded on the mere inconvenience of travel to another public institution for the student. Justice Burger agreed, but wrote separately to emphasize that the majority’s holding was limited to the context of a public nursing program. As a result of Hogan, in 1982 Mississippi University for Women changed its admission policy and so began admitting men to all programs.
Courts have applied Hogan in later challenges to male-only admission policies at public military institutions. For example, in Faulkner v. Jones (1995), the Fourth Circuit held that The Citadel’s exclusion of women also violated the Equal Protection Clause; accordingly, the court ordered officials at the institution to admit women. Moreover, in United States v. Virginia (1996), in an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court asserted that Virginia Military Institute’s exclusion of women violated the Equal Protection Clause, couching its analysis in intermediate scrutiny in a fashion akin to that of Hogan.
Kerry Brian Melear
See also equal protection analysis; Single-Sex Colleges; U.S. Supreme Court Cases in Higher Education
Kaplin, W. A., & Lee, B. A. (2006). The law of higher education: A comprehensive guide to legal implications of administrative decision making. (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Olivas, M. A., & Denison, K. M. (1984). Legalization in the academy: Higher education and the Supreme Court. Journal of Law and Higher Education, 11, 1–50.
Faulkner v. Jones, 51 F.3d 440 (4th Cir. 1995), motion to stay denied, 66 F.3d 661 (4th Cir. 1995), cert. dismissed, 516 U.S. 910 (1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 938 (1995).
Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982).
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (1972).
United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996).