Board of Directors, Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte

PETITIONER: Board of Directors, Rotary International
RESPONDENT: Rotary Club of Duarte
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 86-421
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 481 US 537 (1987)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1987
DECIDED: May 04, 1987

Judith Resnik - Argued the cause for the appellees
Marian M. Johnston - Argued the cause for intervenor State of California
William P. Sutter - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

When the Duarte chapter of Rotary International violated club policy by admitting three women into its active membership its charter was revoked and it was expelled. The California Court of Appeals, however, in reversing a lower court decision, found that Rotary International's action violated a California civil rights act prohibiting sexual discrimination.


Did a law which required California Rotary Clubs to admit women members violate Rotary International's First Amendment rights of association?

Media for Board of Directors, Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1987 in Board of Directors, Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 86-421, Board of Directors of Rotary International against Rotary Club of Duarte.

Mr. Sutter, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

William P. Sutter:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Court has postponed consideration of jurisdiction in this case to this hearing, so I will briefly talk about that before I get into the merits.

The contention is made by the appellees that the constitutional issue was not properly raised in the courts below.

And that's been briefed heavily by both sides.

What the appellants said in their trial brief, and what was dealt with by the court, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals in California, was the question of whether application of the Unruh Act to Rotary would violate Rotarians constitutional right to freedom of expression, freedom of association.

The Court of Appeals held that the Unruh Act did apply, and that it did not violate the First Amendment.

That, I submit, makes this an appealable case.

I refer the Court to the Pruneyard case, decided only a few years ago, when the Court said, and I'm quoting:

"The California Supreme Court rejected appellant's claim that recognition of such a right violated appellant's right to exclude others, which is a fundamental component of their Federally protected property rights. "

"Appeal is thus the proper method of relief. "

That could be precisely applied to this case if you changed instead of,

"which is a fundamental component of their Federally protected property rights. "


"their Federally protected First Amendment rights. "

In either case, the California Supreme Court held that the application of the law did not violate their constitutional rights.

Appeal, it seems to me, is the proper procedure.

However, if it isn't the proper procedure, it is of course within the power of this Court to treat the jurisdictional statement as a petition for certiorari, and to grant certiorari.

And in that event, I would hope that this case, which has attracted nationwide attention, which is the first of cases arising on the same issue in six, or eight, or ten other jurisdictions, all involving male-only organizations, such as the Kiwannis, the Lions, the Boy Scouts, that the Court would see fit to take this case on certiorari, if it isn't a direct appeal, and utilize this opportunity hopefully to re-express its devotion and adherence to the First Amendment; but in any event, to put to rest a very serious question involving the rights of male-only or sex-only... there are female-only organizations as well that are interested, and they filed amicus briefs in this case... their rights to exclude members of another sex from what might be termed a private club, a social organization, or a service club as in the case of Rotary.

Turning to the merits, the case involves the right of individual Rotarians, joined together in local Rotary Clubs, which are social clubs, in which all the courts have found that fellowship, camaraderie, the desire to do good for society, both in the community and in the world at large, are predominant motives and purposes.

Antonin Scalia:

But it really doesn't involve the local clubs, does it?

It... it involves the international affiliation.

This particular local club wanted to admit women?

William P. Sutter:

That is... this particular club did, Your Honor.

But I think it inherently must involve the local club.

The Court of Appeals felt that it must involve the local club, because it said that in deciding the case against International, it must look at and decide whether the local club was itself subject to the Unruh Act.

And I submit that's necessary for the following reasons.

If a local Rotary Club is regarded as a truly private club, and if it is the decision of this Court that a truly private club is not subject to Unruh Act type... because of its First Amendment intimate or expressive associational rights, then a local Rotary club couldn't be found to violate the Unruh Act.

What has happened here is that all local Rotary Clubs, which have voluntarily adopted the rule that women may not be members, have joined together in an international confederation known as Rotary International.