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Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees

The Supreme Court Decides

Kathryn R. Roberts, the acting commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On 18 April 1984, Richard L. Varco, Jr., argued that the act was not unconstitutionally broad or vague and that Minnesota could require the Jaycees to admit women. Carl D. Hall, Jr. argued for the Jaycees that the Fourteenth Amendment requires that laws be clearly written and that rights of free speech and association would be violated by a requirement to admit women.

Justice Brennan delivered the Court's opinion. He began by pointing out the differences between two aspects of the First Amendment's right of association: "freedom of intimate association" and "freedom of expressive association."

Associations protected by the right of intimate association, Brennan explained, would include family relationships and other associations "distinguished by such attributes as relative smallness, a high degree of selectivity in decisions to begin and maintain the affiliation, and seclusion from others in critical aspects of the relationship." Associations formed in the context of "a large business enterprise" did not involve such concerns. The Jaycees--as an organization with no other membership criteria than age and sex, and as an organization with a history of permitting the partial but routine association of women and others deemed ineligible for membership--was "clearly . . . outside of the category of relationships worthy of this kind of constitutional protection."

Turning to constitutional protection of the "freedom of expressive association," Brennan noted that "an individual's freedom to speak, worship, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances" included the "freedom to engage in group effort toward those ends . . . " So, while the right to engage in such "protected activities" was "plainly implicated" in the case under consideration, Brennan pointed out that the "right to associate for expressive purposes is not . . . absolute. Infringements on that right may be justified by regulations adopted to serve compelling state interests . . . " Minnesota had a compelling state interest in ending sex discrimination, Brennan concluded, and that interest justified the impact of its Human Rights Amendment on the Jaycees.

To further illustrate the compelling nature of the state's interest, Brennan discussed the nineteenth-century passage of public accommodation laws intended to end racial discrimination, and their expansion over time, "both with respect to the number and type of covered facilities and the groups against whom discrimination is forbidden." He referred to the Court's 1964 decision in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, which upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964's prohibitions on racial discrimination in places of public accommodation. In that case, Brennan quoted, the Court recognized that the law's "fundamental object . . . was to vindicate the deprivation of personal dignity that surely accompanies denials of equal access to public establishments." The Court now recognized that such a "stigmatizing injury, and the denial of equal opportunities that accompanies it, is surely felt as strongly by persons suffering discrimination on the basis of their sex as by those treated differently because of their race." Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees was followed by two other Supreme Court decisions granting women access to previously all-male organizations or establishments: Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte (1987) and New York State Club Association, Inc. v. New York City (1988).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees - Significance, Rebellion In The Ranks, Never Say Die, The Supreme Court Decides, Exclusive Clubs And Discrimination