Where a 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, U.S. Const. amend. XIV. That a statutory policy discriminates against males rather than against females does not exempt it from scrutiny or reduce the standard of review. 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. 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.
Appellant state women's university challenged a ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which held that its denial of admission of appellee male student to its nursing school violated the equal protection clause, U.S. Const. amend. XIV. A male student sought to enroll in a state women's university because a baccalaureate degree in nursing would enable him to earn more and to obtain specialized training. No similar school was located within a reasonable distance. The university allowed male students to attend only on an auditing basis. The university argued that it should be allowed to continue prohibiting male students from enrolling for credit because the university had traditionally served only women and because the prohibition compensated for past discrimination against women. The Court affirmed the judgment below, striking down the university's prohibition on allowing male students to attend for credit.
Does a state statute excluding males from enrolling in a state-sponsored professional nursing school violate the Equal Protection Clause?
The Court found that the prohibition violated the equal protection clause because it was not substantially related to an important governmental objective. The Court noted that no evidence of past discrimination in this area had been put forth. The Court further found that § 901(a)(5) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, codified at 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681(a), did not exempt the university from any constitutional obligations, and instead, at most, exempted the university from the requirements of Title IX itself.