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Justices Decline To Accept V.M.I. Admissions Case

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WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand a lower-court ruling that could open the doors of the Virginia Military Institute to women.

The High Court on May 24 declined to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the public military college's men-only admissions policy violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law because Virginia does not provide a comparable institution for women.

The case now goes back to a federal district judge for the development of a remedy.

Options include ordering the Lexington, Va., military college to revise its admissions policy, or allowing the state either to establish a parallel program for women or end public support for the 154-year-old institution.

'Unique Benefits'

Officials and alumni of V.M.I., the nation's first state military college, appealed the Fourth Circuit Court's ruling to the Supreme Court.

Its backers contend that admitting women would change the character of the institution, whose stated mission is to produce "citizen-soldiers'' through a rigorous military-style program.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, in a written statement about the Court's decision not to review Virginia Military Institute v. U.S. (Case No. 92-1213), expressed some sympathy for V.M.I.'s case.

"Whether it is constitutional for a state to have a men-only military school is an issue that should receive the attention of this Court before, rather than after, a national institution as venerable as the Virginia Military Institute is compelled to transform itself,'' Justice Scalia wrote.

But the appeal, he added, "seeks our intervention before the litigation below has come to a final judgment.''

The federal government sued V.M.I. and Virginia officials in 1990, alleging that the school's admissions policy violated the equal-protection clause.

U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser ruled in favor of V.M.I. in 1991, but his decision was overturned last year by a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court.

The panel concluded that Virginia "failed to articulate an important policy that substantially supports offering the unique benefits of a V.M.I.-type of education to men and not to women.''

Political Issue

The fate of V.M.I.'s admissions policy has been hotly debated in Virginia. Last week, following the High Court's action, the Democratic nominee for governor, former State Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, said it was time to avoid "additional costly litigation'' by admitting women to V.M.I.

Several Republican candidates for governor, however, back the idea of establishing a separate military program for women.

Robert H. Patterson Jr., a lawyer for V.M.I., said school officials "are confident that preserving this proven educational system will be given the highest priority as this case proceeds to the remedy stage.''

"Our commitment to preserving single-sex educational opportunities for both young women and young men remains undiminished,'' he said.

It its appeal to the High Court, V.M.I. argued that the Fourth Circuit Court's decision added to the "uncertainty as to when single-sex schools will be upheld.''

The college cited proposals for special single-sex classrooms or schools geared to black male children, several of which have been forced by courts or threats of litigation to admit female students.

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