Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan
458 U.S. 718 (1982)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982)

Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan

No. 81-406

Argued March 22, 1982

Decided July 1, 1982

458 U.S. 718

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Held: The policy of petitioner Mississippi University for Women (MUW), a state-supported university which has from its inception limited its enrollment to women, of denying otherwise qualified males (such as respondent) the right to enroll for credit in its School of Nursing violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 458 U. S. 723-733.

(a) The party seeking to uphold a statute that classifies individuals on the basis of their gender must carry the burden of showing an "exceedingly persuasive justification" for the classification. Kirchberg v. Feenstra,450 U. S. 455, 450 U. S. 461; Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney,442 U. S. 256, 442 U. S. 273. The burden is met only by showing at least that the classification serves "important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed" are "substantially related to the achievement of those objectives." Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Insurance Co.,446 U. S. 142, 446 U. S. 150. The test must be applied free of fixed notions concerning the roles and abilities of males and females. Pp. 458 U. S. 723-727.

(b) The single-sex admissions policy of MUW's School of Nursing cannot be justified on the asserted ground that it compensates for discrimination against women and, therefore, constitutes educational affirmative action. A State can evoke a compensatory purpose to justify an otherwise discriminatory classification only if members of the gender benefited by the classification actually suffer a disadvantage related to the classification. Rather than compensating for discriminatory barriers faced by women, MUW's policy tends to perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively woman's job. Moreover, the State has not shown that the gender-based classification is substantially and directly related to its proposed compensatory objective. To the contrary, MUW's policy of permitting men to attend classes as auditors fatally undermines its claim that women, at least those in the School of Nursing, are adversely affected by the presence of men. Thus, the State has fallen far short of establishing the "exceedingly persuasive justification" needed to sustain the gender-based classification. Pp. 458 U. S. 727-731.

(c) Nor can the exclusion of men from MUW's School of Nursing be justified on the basis of the language of § 901(a)(5) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which exempts from § 901(a)'s general prohibition

Page 458 U. S. 719

of gender discrimination in federally funded education programs the admissions policies of public institutions of undergraduate higher education "that traditionally and continually from [their] establishment [have] had a policy of admitting only students of one sex." It is not clear that, as argued by the State, Congress enacted the statute pursuant to its power granted by § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce that Amendment, and thus placed a limitation upon the broad prohibitions of the Equal Protection Clause. Rather, Congress apparently intended, at most, to create an exemption from Title IX's requirements. In any event, Congress' power under § 5

"is limited to adopting measures to enforce the guarantees of the Amendment; § 5 grants Congress no power to restrict, abrogate, or dilute these guarantees."

Katzenbach v. Morgan,384 U. S. 641, 384 U. S. 651, n. 10. Pp. 458 U. S. 731-733.

646 F.2d 1116 and 653 F.2d 222, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., post p. 458 U. S. 733, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 458 U. S. 733, filed dissenting opinions. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 735.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the narrow issue of whether a state statute that excludes males from enrolling in a state-supported professional nursing school violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I

The facts are not in dispute. In 1884, the Mississippi Legislature created the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College

Page 458 U. S. 720

for the Education of White Girls of the State of Mississippi, now the oldest state-supported all-female college in the United States. 1884 Miss.Gen.Laws, Ch. 30, § 6. The school, known today as Mississippi University for Women (MUW), has from its inception limited its enrollment to women. [Footnote 1]

In 1971, MUW established a School of Nursing, initially offering a 2-year associate degree. Three years later, the school instituted a 4-year baccalaureate program in nursing, and today also offers a graduate program. The School of Nursing has its own faculty and administrative officers, and establishes its own criteria for admission. [Footnote 2]

Respondent, Joe Hogan, is a registered nurse but does not hold a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Since 1974, he has worked as a nursing supervisor in a medical center in Columbus, the city in which MUW is located. In 1979, Hogan applied for admission to the MUW School of Nursing's baccalaureate program. [Footnote 3] Although he was otherwise qualified, he

Page 458 U. S. 721

was denied admission to the School of Nursing solely because of his sex. School officials informed him that he could audit the courses in which he was interested, but could not enroll for credit. Tr. 26. [Footnote 4]

Hogan filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, claiming the single-sex admissions policy of MUW's School of Nursing violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hogan sought injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensatory damages.

Following a hearing, the District Court denied preliminary injunctive relief. App. to Pet. for Cert. A4. The court concluded that maintenance of MUW as a single-sex school bears a rational relationship to the State's legitimate interest "in providing the greatest practical range of educational opportunities for its female student population." Id. at A3. Furthermore, the court stated, the admissions policy is not arbitrary, because providing single-sex schools is consistent with a respected, though by no means universally accepted, educational theory that single-sex education affords unique benefits to students. Ibid. Stating that the case presented no issue of fact, the court informed Hogan that it would enter summary judgment dismissing his claim unless he tendered a factual issue. When Hogan offered no further evidence, the District Court entered summary judgment in favor of the State. Record 73.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that, because the admissions policy discriminates on the basis of gender, the District Court improperly used a "rational relationship" test to judge the constitutionality of the policy. 646 F.2d 1116, 1118 (1981). Instead, the Court of Appeals stated, the proper test is whether the State has carried the heavier burden of showing that the gender-based classification is substantially related to an important governmental

Page 458 U. S. 722

objective. Id. at 1118, 1119. Recognizing that the State has a significant interest in providing educational opportunities for all its citizens, the court then found that the State had failed to show that providing a unique educational opportunity for females, but not for males, bears a substantial relationship to that interest. Id. at 1119. Holding that the policy excluding Hogan because of his sex denies him equal protection of the laws, the court vacated the summary judgment entered against Hogan as to his claim for monetary damages, and remanded for entry of a declaratory judgment in conformity with its opinion and for further appropriate proceedings. Id. at 1119-1120.

On rehearing, the State contended that Congress, in enacting § 901(a)(5) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Pub.L. 92-318, 86 Stat. 373, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., expressly had authorized MUW to continue its single-sex admissions policy by exempting public undergraduate institutions that traditionally have used single-sex admissions policies from the gender discrimination prohibition of Title IX. [Footnote 5] Through that provision, the State argued, Congress limited the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment by exercising

Page 458 U. S. 723

its power under § 5 of the Amendment. [Footnote 6] The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, holding that § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment does not grant Congress power to authorize States to maintain practices otherwise violative of the Amendment. 653 F.2d 222 (1981).

We granted certiorari, 454 U.S. 962 (1981), and now affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. [Footnote 7]

II

We begin our analysis aided by several firmly established principles. Because the challenged policy expressly discriminates among applicants on the basis of gender, it is subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Reed v. Reed,404 U. S. 71, 404 U. S. 75 (1971). That this statutory policy discriminates against males, rather than against females, does not exempt it from scrutiny or reduce the standard of review. [Footnote 8] Caban v. Mohammed,

Page 458 U. S. 724

441 U. S. 380, 441 U. S. 394 (1979); Orr v. Orr,440 U. S. 268, 440 U. S. 279 (1979). Our decisions also establish that the party seeking to uphold a statute that classifies individuals on the basis of their gender must carry the burden of showing an "exceedingly persuasive justification" for the classification. Kirchberg v. Feenstra,450 U. S. 455, 450 U. S. 461 (1981); Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney,442 U. S. 256, 442 U. S. 273 (1979). The burden is met only by showing at least that the classification serves "important governmental objectives, and that the discriminatory means employed" are "substantially related to the achievement of those objectives." Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co.,446 U. S. 142, 446 U. S. 150 (1980). [Footnote 9]

Although the test for determining the validity of a gender-based classification is straightforward, it must be applied free

Page 458 U. S. 725

of fixed notions concerning the roles and abilities of males and females. Care must be taken in ascertaining whether the statutory objective itself reflects archaic and stereotypic notions. Thus, if the statutory objective is to exclude or "protect" members of one gender because they are presumed to suffer from an inherent handicap or to be innately inferior, the objective itself is illegitimate. See Frontiero v. Richardson,411 U. S. 677, 411 U. S. 684-685 (1973) (plurality opinion). [Footnote 10]

If the State's objective is legitimate and important, we next determine whether the requisite direct, substantial relationship between objective and means is present. The purpose of requiring that close relationship is to assure that the

Page 458 U. S. 726

validity of a classification is determined through reasoned analysis, rather than through the mechanical application of traditional, often inaccurate, assumptions about the proper roles of men and women. [Footnote 11] The need for the requirement is amply revealed by reference to the broad range of statutes already invalidated by this Court, statutes that relied upon the simplistic, outdated assumption that gender could be used as a "proxy for other, more germane bases of classification," Craig v. Boren,429 U. S. 190, 429 U. S. 198 (1976), to establish a link between objective and classification. [Footnote 12]

Page 458 U. S. 727

Applying this framework, we now analyze the arguments advanced by the State to justify its refusal to allow males to enroll for credit in MUW's School of Nursing.

III

A

The State's primary justification for maintaining the single-sex admissions policy of MUW's School of Nursing is that it compensates for discrimination against women, and therefore constitutes educational affirmative action. Brief for Petitioners 8. [Footnote 13] As applied to the School of Nursing, we find the State's argument unpersuasive.

Page 458 U. S. 728

In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that is disproportionately burdened. See Schlesinger v. Ballard,419 U. S. 498 (1975). However, we consistently have emphasized that

"the mere recitation of a benign, compensatory purpose is not an automatic shield which protects against any inquiry into the actual purposes underlying a statutory scheme."

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld,420 U. S. 636, 420 U. S. 648 (1975). The same searching analysis must be made, regardless of whether the State's objective is to eliminate family controversy, Reed v. Reed,404 U. S. 71 (1971), to achieve administrative efficiency, Frontiero v. Richardson,411 U. S. 677 (1973), or to balance the burdens borne by males and females.

It is readily apparent that a State can evoke a compensatory purpose to justify an otherwise discriminatory classification only if members of the gender benefited by the classification actually suffer a disadvantage related to the classification. We considered such a situation in Califano v. Webster,430 U. S. 313 (1977), which involved a challenge to a statutory classification that allowed women to eliminate more low-earning years than men for purposes of computing Social Security retirement benefits. Although the effect of the classification was to allow women higher monthly benefits than were available to men with the same earning history, we upheld the statutory scheme, noting that it took into account that women "as such have been unfairly hindered from earning as much as men" and "work[ed] directly to remedy" the resulting economic disparity. Id. at 430 U. S. 318.

A similar pattern of discrimination against women influenced our decision in Schlesinger v. Ballard, supra. There, we considered a federal statute that granted female Naval officers a 13-year tenure of commissioned service before mandatory discharge, but accorded male officers only a 9-year tenure. We recognized that, because women were barred from combat duty, they had had fewer opportunities for promotion than had their male counterparts. By allowing

Page 458 U. S. 729

women an additional four years to reach a particular rank before subjecting them to mandatory discharge, the statute directly compensated for other statutory barriers to advancement.

In sharp contrast, Mississippi has made no showing that women lacked opportunities to obtain training in the field of nursing or to attain positions of leadership in that field when the MUW School of Nursing opened its door, or that women currently are deprived of such opportunities. In fact, in 1970, the year before the School of Nursing's first class enrolled, women earned 94 percent of the nursing baccalaureate degrees conferred in Mississippi and 98.6 percent of the degrees earned nationwide. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Earned Degrees Conferred: 1969-1970, Institutional Data 388 (1972). That year was not an aberration; one decade earlier, women had earned all the nursing degrees conferred in Mississippi and 98.9 percent of the degrees conferred nationwide. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Earned Degrees Conferred, 1959-1960: Bachelor's and Higher Degrees 135 (1960). As one would expect, the labor force reflects the same predominance of women in nursing. When MUW's School of Nursing began operation, nearly 98 percent of all employed registered nurses were female. [Footnote 14] United States Bureau of Census, 1981 Statistical Abstract of the United States 402 (1981).

Rather than compensate for discriminatory barriers faced by women, MUW's policy of excluding males from admission to the School of Nursing tends to perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively woman's job. [Footnote 15] By assuring

Page 458 U. S. 730

that Mississippi allots more openings in its state-supported nursing schools to women than it does to men, MUW's admissions policy lends credibility to the old view that women, not men, should become nurses, and makes the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy. See Stanton v. Stanton,421 U. S. 7 (1975). Thus, we conclude that, although the State recited a "benign, compensatory purpose," it failed to establish that the alleged objective is the actual purpose underlying the discriminatory classification. [Footnote 16]

The policy is invalid also because it fails the second part of the equal protection test, for the State has made no showing that the gender-based classification is substantially and directly related to its proposed compensatory objective. To the contrary, MUW's policy of permitting men to attend classes as auditors fatally undermines its claim that women, at least those in the School of Nursing, are adversely affected by the presence of men.

Page 458 U. S. 731

MUW permits men who audit to participate fully in classes. Additionally, both men and women take part in continuing education courses offered by the School of Nursing, in which regular nursing students also can enroll. Deposition of Dr. James Strobel 56-60 and Deposition of Dean Annette K. Barrar 24-26. The uncontroverted record reveals that admitting men to nursing classes does not affect teaching style, Deposition of Nancy L. Herban 4, that the presence of men in the classroom would not affect the performance of the female nursing students, Tr. 61 and Deposition of Dean Annette K. Barrar 7-8, and that men in coeducational nursing schools do not dominate the classroom. Deposition of Nancy Herban 6. In sum, the record in this case is flatly inconsistent with the claim that excluding men from the School of Nursing is necessary to reach any of MUW's educational goals.

Thus, considering both the asserted interest and the relationship between the interest and the methods used by the State, we conclude that the State has fallen far short of establishing the "exceedingly persuasive justification" needed to sustain the gender-based classification. Accordingly, we hold that MUW's policy of denying males the right to enroll for credit in its School of Nursing violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Footnote 17]

B

In an additional attempt to justify its exclusion of men from MUW's School of Nursing, the State contends that MUW is

Page 458 U. S. 732

the direct beneficiary "of specific congressional legislation which, on its face, permits the institution to exist as it has in the past." Brief for Petitioners 19. The argument is based upon the language of § 901(a) in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Although § 901(a) prohibits gender discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance, subsection 5 exempts the admissions policies of undergraduate institutions "that traditionally and continually from [their] establishment [have] had a policy of admitting only students of one sex" from the general prohibition. Seen 5, supra. Arguing that Congress enacted Title IX in furtherance of its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, a power granted by § 5 of that Amendment, the State would have us conclude that § 901(a)(5) is but "a congressional limitation upon the broad prohibitions of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Brief for Petitioners 20.

The argument requires little comment. Initially, it is far from clear that Congress intended, through § 901(a)(5), to exempt MUW from any constitutional obligation. Rather, Congress apparently intended, at most, to exempt MUW from the requirements of Title IX.

Even if Congress envisioned a constitutional exemption, the State's argument would fail. Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress broad power indeed to enforce the command of the Amendment and "to secure to all persons the enjoyment of perfect equality of civil rights and the equal protection of the laws against State denial or invasion. . . ." Ex parte Virginia,100 U. S. 339, 100 U. S. 346 (1880). Congress' power under § 5, however, "is limited to adopting measures to enforce the guarantees of the Amendment; § 5 grants Congress no power to restrict, abrogate, or dilute these guarantees." Katzenbach v. Morgan,384 U. S. 641, 384 U. S. 651, n. 10 (1966). Although we give deference to congressional decisions and classifications, neither Congress nor a State can validate a law that denies the rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth

Page 458 U. S. 733

Amendment. See, e.g., Califano v. Goldfarb,430 U. S. 199, 430 U. S. 210 (1977); Williams v. Rhodes,393 U. S. 23, 393 U. S. 29 (1968).

The fact that the language of § 901(a)(5) applies to MUW provides the State no solace:

"[A] statute apparently governing a dispute cannot be applied by judges, consistently with their obligations under the Supremacy Clause, when such an application of the statute would conflict with the Constitution. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803)."

Younger v. Harris,401 U. S. 37, 401 U. S. 52 (1971).

IV

Because we conclude that the State's policy of excluding males from MUW's School of Nursing violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]

The charter of MUW, basically unchanged since its founding, now provides:

"The purpose and aim of the Mississippi State College for Women is the moral and intellectual advancement of the girls of the state by the maintenance of a first-class institution for their education in the arts and sciences, for their training in normal school methods and kindergarten, for their instruction in bookkeeping, photography, stenography, telegraphy, and typewriting, and in designing, drawing, engraving, and painting, and their industrial application, and for their instruction in fancy, general and practical needlework, and in such other industrial branches as experience, from time to time, shall suggest as necessary or proper to fit them for the practical affairs of life."

Miss.Code Ann. § 37-117-3 (1972).

Mississippi maintains no other single-sex public university or college. Thus, we are not faced with the question of whether States can provide "separate but equal" undergraduate institutions for males and females. Cf. Vorchheimer v. School District of Philadelphia, 532 F.2d 880 (CA3 1975), aff'd by an equally divided Court,430 U. S. 703 (1977).

[Footnote 2]

Record, Exhibit 1, 1980-1981 Bulletin of Mississippi University for Women 31-34, 212-229.

[Footnote 3]

With a baccalaureate degree, Hogan would be able to earn a higher salary and would be eligible to obtain specialized training as an anesthetist. Tr. 18.

[Footnote 4]

Dr. James Strobel, President of MUW, verified that men could audit the equivalent of a full class-load in either night or daytime classes. Id. at 390.

[Footnote 5]

Section 901(a) of Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, Pub.L. 92-318, 86 Stat. 373, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), provides in part:

"(a) No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, except that:"

"(1) . . . in regard to admissions to educational institutions, this section shall apply only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education;"

"* * * *"

"(5) . . . in regard to admissions this section shall not apply to any public institution of undergraduate higher education which is an institution that traditionally and continually from its establishment has had a policy of admitting only students of one sex. . . ."

[Footnote 6]

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides:

"The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

[Footnote 7]

Although some statements in the Court of Appeals' decision refer to all schools within MUW, see 646 F.2d at 1119, the factual underpinning of Hogan's claim for relief involved only his exclusion from the nursing program, Complaint

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