The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a public college in Virginia. VMI’s stated mission was to produce “citizen soldiers.” Through the so-called “adversative method,” VMI instilled physical and mental discipline in its student body. The students lived in “spartan barracks,” wore uniforms, ate together, and had no privacy. Since its founding, VMI had admitted only male students.
The United States filed suit against VMI on behalf of female students who could not apply to the college. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that VMI’s admissions policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the court suggested that the college could cure that constitutional problem by establishing a parallel program for women. As a result, Virginia opened the Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) at Mary Baldwin College, a private women’s college. That accommodation, however, did not end the litigation. VMI and VWIL offered different programs for men and women.
The United States appealed the case to the Supreme Court.