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Roberts v. United States Jaycees


Roberts v. United States Jaycees was a 1984 Supreme Court decision, 468 U.S. 609, 104 S. Ct. 3244, 82 L. Ed. 2d 462, that held that the right to freedom of association guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution did not include the right of a commercial association to deny women admission to the organization because of their gender. In a unanimous vote, the Court emphasized that the state had a compelling interest to eliminate sex discrimination and assure its citizens equal access to publicly available goods and services.

The U.S. Jaycees (Jaycees) was founded as the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1920. It is a national organization, which at the time of the litigation had more than 235,000 members. The national organization set membership requirements for local chapters, one of which limited membership to men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. When the Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters of the Jaycees admitted women in the mid-1970s, the U.S. Jaycees imposed a number of sanctions on those chapters for violating the bylaws. For example, it denied their members eligibility for state or national office or awards programs and refused to count their membership in computing votes at national conventions.

In December 1978 the president of the Jaycees advised both chapters that a motion to revoke their charters would be considered at a forthcoming meeting of the national board of directors. Members of both chapters filed charges of sex discrimination with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging that the exclusion of women from full membership required by the national organization's bylaws violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Minn. Stat. § 363.03, subd. 3 [1982]). The members argued that the Jaycees organization was a public accommodation within the meaning of the act and was therefore bound not to discriminate on the basis of gender.

The Minnesota Human Rights Department ruled that the membership policy violated the act. The Jaycees then filed suit in federal court alleging that a requirement that would force the organization to accept women as regular members would violate the male members' constitutional rights of free speech and association. The federal court certified a question to the Minnesota Supreme Court, asking whether the Jaycees organization was a "place of public accommodation" within the meaning of the state's Human Rights Act.

The supreme court answered affirmatively, concluding that the Jaycees organization is a "business" in that it sells goods and extends privileges in exchange for annual membership dues, it is a "public" business in that it solicits and recruits dues-paying members based on unselective criteria, and it is a public business "facility" in that it conducts its activities at fixed and mobile sites within the state of Minnesota.

The federal district court ruled in the state's favor, and the Jaycees appealed. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, finding that in requiring the admission of women, the act violated the First and fourteenth amendment rights of the organization's members.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. In a unanimous ruling, the Court admitted that the Jaycees' freedom of association rights were infringed by the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Justice william j. brennan jr. noted that the Jaycees' freedom of association related to the expression of collective views and interests. The right of association was not absolute, however. If the state could demonstrate a compelling state interest and show that the remedy was narrowly tailored, the prohibition on gender discrimination would be permitted.

Brennan found that the act reflected Minnesota's "strong historical commitment to eliminating discrimination and assuring its citizens equal access to publicly available goods and services." This goal "plainly serves compelling state interests of the highest order."

Having found a compelling state interest, Brennan concluded that in applying the act to the Jaycees, the state had advanced its interests in the least restrictive way. The Jaycees could not demonstrate any "serious burdens on the male members' freedom of expressive association." The Court dismissed the contention by the Jaycees that women members might have a different view or agenda than men. This contention was based on "unsupported generalizations about the relative interests and perspectives of men and women." The Court would not, stated Brennan, "indulge in the sexual stereotyping that underlies" the Jaycees' argument.

In a concurring opinion, Justice sandra day o'connor stated that the Jaycees was a nonexpressive commercial association and that these associations have long been the subject of greater government regulatory control.

further readings

Doering, Shannon L. 1999. "Treading on the Constitution To Get a Foot in the Clubhouse Door." Nebraska Law Review 78 (summer): 644–76.


Equal Protection; First Amendment; Fourteenth Amendment; Women's Rights.

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