Some of America's most exclusive clubs are reassessing their membership policies in the wake of a Supreme Court decision upholding a law that bars discrimination by many private clubs in New York City.
The court's unanimous decision Monday gives the green light to other municipal efforts to open social clubs to women and minorities.The ruling by Justice Byron White rejected arguments by a coalition of 125 private clubs that they have a First Amendment right to choose their members and cannot be forced to admit women or minorities against their will.
The New York ordinance "does not affect `in any significant way' the ability of individuals to form associations that will advocate public or private viewpoints," White wrote. "It does not require the clubs to `abandon or alter' any activities that are protected by the First Amendment.
"The law merely prevents an association from using race, sex and other specified characteristics as shorthand measures in place of what the city considers to be more legitimate criteria for determining membership."
In recent years many large cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco and the District of Columbia, have enacted similar laws. Usually they give the clubs a choice - either admit women or forfeit such money-making ventures as serving meals and drinks and renting out space for parties.
The laws also apply to certain women's clubs that exclude men, some of which are waging legal battles to stop their enforcement.