by Lisa Bennett-Haigney
In an important step forward for women, U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck ruled in December that the Citadel in South Carolina must process applications from women seeking admission into its Corp of Cadets.
One of those applications is from Nancy Mellette, a 17-year-old senior who has replaced Shannon Faulkner in the fight to integrate women into one of the two remaining state-funded, all-male military colleges in the United States. Mellette's lawyer, Val Vojdik, believes this win means "there is a real chance that more women will come forward and apply."
The next step in the three-year battle was suspended when Judge Houck granted the Citadel's request for a stay of the December trial. This postponed the scheduled hearing on the constitutionality (and adequacy) of the school's alternative "separate but equal" program for women at Converse College. A key element in making that case is Mellette's desire to major in engineering, which is not available at Converse College.
Judge Houck agreed to postpone the trial pending the Supreme Court's decision on the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). In May, the Justice Department decided that VMI's alternative women's program was unacceptable and took their challenge to the high court. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the VMI case this month, but a decision could come as late as the end of the Court's session next summer. NOW recently signed onto another of several amicus curiae briefs in the VMI case pending in the Supreme Court, citing the violation of women's right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
The postponement is the latest of many defense tactics employed by the Citadel in resisting the admission of women. Vojdik said that after three months of intensive discovery and more than 65 depositions, they have a very strong case against the Converse College plan.
Vojdik says there is a good chance, given that amount of time, that Converse College will reconsider their sponsorship of the women's program, leaving the Citadel without an alternative. NOW has been a strong supporter of Shannon Faulkner at the local, state and national levels, and will continue to back Nancy Mellette in her bid to obtain the same military education that is made available at state expense to her male counterparts.