Board of Directors of Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537; 107 S. Ct. 1940; 95 L. Ed. 2d 474 (1987)

Board of Directors of Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537; 107 S. Ct. 1940; 95 L. Ed. 2d 474 (1987)

Facts—Each local Rotary Club is a member of Rotary International in which (as of 1982) there were 19,788 clubs worldwide in 157 countries with a total membership of a little more than 900,000 members. Individuals are admitted to membership according to a “classification system” that includes representatives of every worthy and recognized business, professional, or institutional activity in the community. The system permits additional members as associate, senior active, or past service, but does not limit the number of clergymen, journalists, or diplomats. Although each Rotary adopts its own rules, membership is open only to men. Although women are invited to attend various activities and can even form auxiliary units, they cannot be members. When the Duarte Rotary admitted women, the directors revoked their charter. Meanwhile the local Rotary went to court. After a bench trial in favor of Rotary, the California Court of Appeals reversed the decision.

Question—Did the California statute (Unruh Act) that required California Rotary Clubs to admit women members violate the First Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Powell (7–0). The California Court of Appeals found that Rotary Clubs—although committed to humanitarian service, high ethical standards in all vocations, and a concern for good will and world peace— are business establishments and therefore subject to the Unruh Act. The trial court erred in holding that Rotary was only incidentally involved in business. The appeals court rejected the view that Rotary does not provide services or facilities to its members. Rotary is not a small intimate club that gives rise to “continuous, personal, and social” relationships of a kind of which the Court is solicitous in protecting. Rotary does not fall in this category. In determining this protection “we consider factors such as size, purpose, selectivity and whether others are excluded. “Many of the Rotary Clubs central activities are carried on in the presence of visitors and strangers. Rather than keep an atmosphere of privacy they “seek to keep their windows and doors open to the whole world.” The evidence fails “to demonstrate that admitting women to Rotary Clubs will affect in any significant way the existing members’ ability to carry out their various purposes.” The Unruh Act does not violate the right of expressive association afforded by the First Amendment.

Note—In July 1984, the Court (7–2) held in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984), that women must be admitted to membership in the Jaycees. The Court asserted that a Minnesota state law compelling Jaycees to accept women as members did not violate freedom of association and could cover the Jaycees since local chapters were not small, intimate, and selective. The Court uses essentially the same reasoning in opening up Rotary International to women. The state had a “compelling interest” in eradicating discrimination. The Court, voting 9–0, made a clean sweep in New York State Club Ass’n v. New York City (487 U.S. 1 (1988) holding that women must be admitted to large social clubs traditionally restricted to men.

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