Magazine article Insight on the News

Extending Equality or Shortening Honor?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Extending Equality or Shortening Honor?

Article excerpt

Was it Mark Twain who said the republic was safe only when Congress was not in session? Time to add the Supreme Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia was eloquent in his lone dissent in the Supreme Court's recent ruling that doomed the 157-year-old tradition of the Virginia Military Institute.

The ruling does not leave VMI without honor, he wrote. "In an odd sort of way, it is precisely VMI's attachment to such old-fashioned concepts as manly 'honor' that has made it, and the system it represents, the target of those who today succeeded in abolishing public single-sex education."

Since 1839, VMI has admitted only males to its famously rigorous military regimen and "adversative" system. Its vulnerability, of course, is that the college in Lexington is state-chartered and receives about a third of its revenue from Virginia. That won't do in the context of today's hypersexual politics.

There is no arguing with the fact that women have been historically excluded from a spectrum of political and social participation. Indeed, the majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a sermon on the inequities under which women have labored.

It isn't evident, however, that her declamation genuinely addressed the guarantee of equal protection under the law -- beyond her assertion and the concurrence of her six colleagues (Justice Clarence Thomas did not take part because his son attends VMI). Scalia suggested that the majority opinion was an exercise in writing a constitution, not interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

The question is: How far does sexual equality extend? At this point, given the Ginsburg decision, the implication seems to be that any educational institution receiving any government funds-and that means virtually all of them-may make no distinctions involving sex, or "gender," as it has come to be labeled.

It is the breadth of the court's ruling that really stirs the pot. As one critic argued, the Supreme Court by fiat has enacted the Equal Rights Amendment which was legislatively rejected. The high court has set a tighter standard for permissible exclusions based upon sex.

The court-established criterion for evaluating distinctions based upon race, for example, long has been that there must be "strict scrutiny" of any distinction "narrowly tailored" to meet a "compelling" state interest. …

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