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U.S. Supreme Court

Rotary Int'l v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537 (1987)

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

No. 86-421

Argued March 30, 1987

Decided May 4, 1987

481 U.S. 537


Rotary International is a nonprofit corporation composed of local Rotary Clubs. Its purposes are to provide humanitarian service, to encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and to help build world peace and good will. Individuals are admitted to local club membership according to a "classification system" based on business, professional, and institutional activity in the community. Although women are permitted to attend meetings, give speeches, receive awards, and form auxiliary organizations, the Rotary constitution excludes women from membership. Because it had admitted women to active membership, the Duarte, California, Rotary Club's membership in the international organization was terminated. That club and two of its women members filed a suit alleging that the termination violated California's Unruh Act (Act), which entitles all persons, regardless of sex, to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, and services in all business establishments in the State. The state trial court entered judgment for Rotary International, concluding that neither it nor the Duarte Club is a "business establishment" within the meaning of the Act. However, the State Court of Appeal reversed on this point, and rejected the contention that Rotary's policy of excluding women is protected by the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court ordered the Duarte Club's reinstatement, and enjoined the enforcement of the gender requirements against it.


1. The Unruh Act does not violate the First Amendment by requiring California Rotary Clubs to admit women. Pp. 481 U. S. 544-549.

(a) Application of the Act to local Rotary Clubs does not interfere unduly with club members' freedom of private association. In determining whether a particular association is sufficiently intimate or private to warrant constitutional protection, consideration must be given to factors such as size, purpose, selectivity, and whether others are excluded from critical aspects of the relationship. Here, the relationship among Rotary Club members does not warrant protection, in light of the potentially large size of local clubs, the high turnover rate among club members, the inclusive nature of each club's membership, the public purposes behind clubs' service activities, and the fact that the clubs encourage the

Page 481 U. S. 538

participation of strangers in, and welcome media coverage of, many of their central activities. Pp. 481 U. S. 544-547.

(b) Application of the Act to California Rotary Clubs does not violate the First Amendment right of expressive association. Although clubs engage in a variety of commendable service activities that are protected by the First Amendment, the evidence fails to demonstrate that admitting women will affect in any significant way the existing members' ability to carry out those activities. Moreover, the Act does not require clubs to abandon or alter their classification and admission systems, but, in fact, will permit them to have an even more representative membership with a broadened capacity for service. Even if the Act does work some slight infringement of members' rights, that infringement is justified by the State's compelling interests in eliminating discrimination against women and in assuring them equal access to public accommodations. The latter interest extends to the acquisition of leadership skills and business contacts, as well as tangible goods and services. Pp. 481 U. S. 548-549.

2. The contentions that the Act is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad were not properly presented to the state courts, and therefore will not be reviewed by this Court. Pp. 481 U. S. 549-550.

178 Cal.App.3d 1035, 224 Cal.Rptr. 213, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., concurred in the judgment. BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 481 U. S. 539

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