487 U.S. 1 (1988), argued 23 Feb. 1988, decided 20 June 1988 by vote of 9 to 0; White for the Court, O’Connor, joined by Kennedy and Scalia, concurring. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees (1984), New York's city council sought to define clubs that were “not strictly private” and thus subject to the city's human rights law. A club with at least four hundred members, which regularly served meals and regularly received “payment for dues, fees, use of space, facilities, services, meals, or beverages directly or indirectly from or on behalf of non-members for the furtherance of trade or business” was covered and thus prohibited from discriminating on account of race or sex. Benevolent orders and religious corporations were excluded.
The New York State Club Association challenged the law on its face as an unconstitutional restriction on the First Amendment rights of intimate and expressive association of its members and also on equal protection grounds. A unanimous Court rejected this claim, ruling that the private associational rights of each and every club member would not be infringed by the law because many, if not all, had public characteristics. The Court noted that the clubs could still exclude members on the ground of nonshared views but simply could not exclude them on the basis of race or sex. The exemption for benevolent orders and religious corporations was not an equal protection violation because they uniquely exist for the benefit of their members and are not open to commercial activity.
As a result of this decision, many “males only” clubs across the country decided to admit women; these included the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., which counted among its members Justices Harry Blackmun and Antonin Scalia.
Inez Smith Reid