Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees 1984

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Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees 1984

Petitioner: Kathryn R. Roberts, Acting Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Rights, et al.

Respondent: U.S. Jaycees

Petitioner's Claim: That Minnesota's Human Rights Act was constitutional and required the Jaycees to admit women as regular members.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Richard L. Varco Jr.

Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Carl D. Hall Jr.

Justices for the Court: William J. Brennan, Jr. (writing for the Court), Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting: None (Harry A. Blackmun and Warren E. Burger did not participate)

Date of Decision: July 3, 1984

Decision: Minnesota's Human Rights Act was constitutional. Requiring the Jaycees to admit women as regular members did not violate the organization's freedom of association.

Significance: This was the first in a series of Supreme Court decisions that opened many all-male organizations to women.

No women allowed

The Supreme Court often decides cases involving conflicting constitutional rights. In Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, the U.S. Jaycees argued that the First Amendment freedom of association allowed the organization to refuse to admit women as regular members. (The freedom of association is the right to form organizations for political or social causes and to control who can be a member.) The state of Minnesota argued that it could force the Jaycees to admit women in order to stop sex discrimination. (Sex discrimination is unequal treatment of people based on their gender.) The Supreme Court had to choose between the freedom of association and the goal of ending sex discrimination.

Future leaders in America

The U.S. Jaycees is a nonprofit organization with national offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma. State offices are also located throughout the country. Many cities and other communities also have local Jaycees organizations called chapters. As of 1999, the Jaycees' goal is to promote leadership training and community involvement for young adults between twenty-one and thirty-nine years old.

Prior to 1984, however, the Jaycees' main goal was to promote community service and leadership by young men. Regular membership was only open to men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. The Jaycees developed training programs to teach young men how to be leaders in business and society. Men over thirty-five and women of all ages could only become associate members. Associate members paid membership fees but could not vote, hold office, or participate in Jaycees awards and training programs.

Rebellion in the ranks

In the early 1970s, two local chapters in Minnesota began to admit women as regular members. Minneapolis did so in 1974, and St. Paul began in 1975. Women became important members of both chapters and served on their boards of directors.

Because female membership violated the organization's rules, the U.S. Jaycees declared that all members of the Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters were forbidden from serving in the Jaycees' state or national offices. It also forbade those members from receiving awards or voting at the annual national convention. The U.S. Jaycees then announced that the national board of directors would meet to consider canceling Minneapolis and St. Paul's membership in the U.S. Jaycees.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters filed complaints with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The Department of Human Rights was responsible for enforcing the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which made it illegal to deny people the benefits of using a public facility because of their gender. The Minneapolis and St. Paul Jaycees said they would be violating the Human Rights Act if they did not admit women as regular members.

The Department of Human Rights ruled in favor of the chapters. It said that the Jaycees is a public facility, and that excluding women from membership in a public facility was unlawful sex discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The U.S. Jaycees responded by suing Kathryn R. Roberts, the head of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, in federal court in Minnesota. The U.S. Jaycees argued that by forcing the Jaycees to admit women, the Human Rights Act violated the First Amendment right to freedom of association. Specifically the Jaycees argued that under the First Amendment, its members had a right to exclude women to pursue its goal of developing leadership abilities and community involvement for young men. It also said it had a First Amendment right to support political and public causes of interest to young men. Forcing the Jaycees to admit women would interfere with those First Amendment rights.

The federal court ruled in favor of Roberts. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and ruled in favor of the Jaycees. It said the Jaycees' right to determine its membership was protected by the First Amendment freedom of association. Roberts appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reversing discrimination

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit's decision and ruled in favor of Roberts and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Writing for the Court, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. immediately noted the conflict between the freedom of association and the goal of ending sex discrimination. Resolving that conflict depended on the importance of the two rights.

Justice Brennan said that ending sex discrimination is a compelling state interest. A compelling state interest is an interest so important that the government may interfere with other, less important rights in order to serve that interest. Deciding the case, then, depended on the importance of the Jaycees' right to freedom of association.

To answer this question, Justice Brennan described two different kinds of freedom of association. He called the first one the freedom of intimate association. This freedom is the right to have close family relationships. Justice Brennan said this right is so important that it would win in a battle against the compelling state interest of ending sex discrimination.

The Jaycees, however, was not a small family, but rather a large organization. This meant that instead of exercising the freedom of intimate association, it was exercising the second kind of freedom, called the freedom of expressive association. The freedom of expressive association is the right to gather with people to speak, worship, or pursue goals as a group. Expressive association is of such importance that Justice Brennan said that the government may not control a group's reason for gathering or the goals it pursues.

The freedom of expressive association, however, is less important than the state's compelling interest in ending sex discrimination. Organizations that exclude women reinforce old ideas that women have fewer or different abilities and interests than men. Therefore, Justice Brennan concluded that under the Minnesota Human Rights Act the Jaycees could admit women as regular members without interfering with its freedom of association. Even with female members, the Jaycees still could pursue the goals of fostering community involvement and leadership for young men.


J ustice William J. Brennan, Jr., who wrote the decision in Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, graduated at the top of his class in Harvard Law School. After practicing law in Newark, New Jersey, he served as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court and then the New Jersey Supreme Court. President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Brennan to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956.

As a Supreme Court Justice who also was a Catholic Democrat, Brennan never stopped fighting for the rights of minorities and the politically weak citizens of America. He firmly believed that our Constitution guarantees "freedom and equality of rights and opportunities . . . to all people of this nation." Justice Brennan wrote decisions in favor of ending racial and gender discrimination, and protecting the freedom of speech and the rights of criminal defendants. Brennan retired from the Supreme Court in 1990 and passed away in July 1997.

In time, the Jaycees committed itself to fostering development for young men and women alike. In fact, Roberts was the first of many Supreme Court cases to open all-male organizations to women. In 1987 in Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte, the Supreme Court ruled that an organization of businesses devoted to public service had to admit women as members. Then in 1996 in United States v. Virginia, the Court ruled that all-male military colleges had to admit women as students. In this way, the Supreme Court has helped to create equal opportunities for men and women in America.

Suggestions for further reading

Hanmer, Trudy J. Sexism and Sex Discrimination. New York: Franklin Watts, 1990.

King, David C. Freedom of Assembly. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1997.

Klinker, Philip A. The First Amendment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.

Pascoe, Elaine. Freedom of Expression: The Right to Speak Out in America. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.

The Supreme Court: Selections from the Four-Volume Encyclopedia of the American Constitution and Supplement. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1999.

The World Book Encyclopedia, 1997 ed., entry on "Jaycees." Chicago: World Book 1997.

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Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees 1984

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