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Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan


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458 U.S. 718 (1982), argued 22 Mar. 1982, decided 1 July 1982 by vote of 5 to 4; O’Connor for the Court, Burger, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist in dissent. Hogan, a male resident of Mississippi, challenged as a violation of equal protection the women-only admission policy of the state-supported Mississippi University for Women nursing school. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in her first opinion for the Court, applied the Craig v. Boren (1976) test of intermediate scrutiny. As its “important interest,” the state claimed that this policy compensated for discrimination against women. O’Connor reasoned that the exclusion of men from a nursing college did nothing to compensate women for discriminatory barriers faced by them. Moreover, the state failed to show that the policy “substantially furthered” the alleged objective since men were permitted to attend classes as auditors.

Chief Justice Warren Burger's dissent expressed general agreement with Justice Lewis Powell's but emphasized that the holding applied specifically to a nursing college. Justice Harry Blackmun argued that Hogan had a choice of coed nursing schools elsewhere in the state, that it was valuable to offer women the choice of an all-female school, and that, while the holding applied specifically to nursing colleges, there would be inevitable spillover from the reasoning to other single-sex schools.

Powell (with Justice William Rehnquist) asserted that, in effect, the Court was banning state-provided women-only colleges. He elaborated on Blackmun's educational-choice arguments by focusing on the educational benefits for women of single-sex colleges and claimed that because this was not a case of sex discrimination the Craig test was inappropriate, but he maintained that the Craig test was nonetheless satisfied. The dissenters argued further that this would lead to the eventual demise of publicly supported colleges exclusively for women, which it did.

Leslie Friedman Goldstein

Subjects: Law.


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