Justices Tell Rotary It Can’t Bar Women

From Times Wire Services

The Supreme Court, reinforcing the power of states to curb sex discrimination, today upheld a California law that bars Rotary Clubs from ousting local chapters that admit women as members.

In a 7-0 ruling, the justices dismissed arguments of the international service group that it has a constitutional right to exclude women if it chooses.

Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., in his opinion for the court, said the California law does not interfere with the constitutional rights of Rotarians to associate with whom they please.

Powell compared the clubs to public accommodations in rejecting arguments that Rotarians have a First Amendment right to bar women.


Not an Intimate Group

He said the clubs are sizable, have a high turnover rate, engage in public activities, encourage participation by non-members and welcome news media coverage of many of their central activities.

“The evidence in this case indicates that the relationship among Rotary Club members is not the kind of intimate or private relation that warrants constitutional protection,” Powell said.

While today’s ruling reinforced the power of states to curb sex discrimination, the court provided no checklist on what other organizations might be affected.


Powell suggested it requires a case-by-case analysis to determine whether an organization is sufficiently private to base membership on gender.

‘84 Jaycee Ruling

The justices in 1984 ruled that the Jaycees may be forced by states to admit women as full members. That decision said a Minnesota law banning discrimination by “public accommodations” applies to the Jaycees.

Thus, today’s ruling does not answer the question of whether state public accommodations laws may apply, for example, to such groups as the Kiwanis, Lions, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sons of Italy or the Polish Women’s Alliance.


The Rotary case began when three women were admitted to the Duarte, Calif., chapter in 1978 and the international organization ousted the chapter.

Rotary International was ordered to abide by the state’s so-called Unruh Act, which bans discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin. A California appeals court ordered the Duarte club reinstated last year.