In 1996, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark opinion in United States v. Virginia that exalted women’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by ending the 157-year-old tradition of all-male education at the Virginia Military Institute, one of the nation’s most distinguished military colleges.
Writing for a 7-1 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described VMI as “incomparable,” a school justly known for its “unparalleled record as a leadership training program,” dating back to its founding in 1839. The problem was, this “unique program,” the only single-sex school among Virginia’s public institutions of higher learning, was reserved exclusively to men. Women were not permitted to attend. As such, Justice Ginsburg wrote: “While Virginia serves the state’s sons, it makes no provision whatever for her daughters. That is not equal protection.”