The issue is a conflict between a State’s efforts to eliminate gender-based discrimination against its citizens and the constitutional freedom of association asserted by members of a private organization.
An association’s qualities such as small size or a high degree of selectivity in decisions to begin or maintain the affiliation are likely to reflect the considerations that have led to an understanding of freedom of association as an intrinsic element of personal liberty.
The United States Jaycee, founded in 1920 as the Junior Chamber of Commerce, is a nonprofit membership corporation. The objectives of the Jaycees is to pursue educational and charitable purposes as will promote and foster the growth and development of young men’s civic organizations in the United States. Regular membership is limited to young men between the ages of 18 and 35, while associate membership is available to individuals ineligible for regular membership, principally women and older men. An associate member may not vote, hold local or national office, or participate in certain leadership training programs. In 1974, Minnesota’s Jaycees began admitting women as regular members, in violation of the national organization’s bylaws. When the president of the national organization advised it to revoke the bylaws, it field charges of discrimination, alleging that the exclusion of women from full membership.
Does a private organization’s policy – where regular membership is limited to young men between the ages of 18 and 35, while associate membership is available to individuals ineligible for regular membership, principally women and older men and an associate member is not allowed to vote, hold local or national office, or participate in certain leadership training programs – violate the Constitution?
Yes, the local chapters of the Jaycees are neither small nor selective. Moreover, much of the activity central to the formation and maintenance of the association involves the participation of strangers to that relationship. Thus, Jaycees chapters lack the distinctive characteristics that might afford constitutional protection to the decision of its members to exclude women.
Whether an association is or is not constitutionally protected in the selection of its membership should not depend on what the association says or why its members say it. An association engaged exclusively in protected expression enjoys First Amendment protection of both the content of its message and the choice of its members. An association should be characterized as commercial, and thus subject to rationally related state regulation of its membership and other associational activities, when and only when the association’s activities are not predominantly the type protected by the First Amendment.
The right to associate for expressive purposes is not absolute. Infringements on that right may be justified by regulations adopted to serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms. Here, Minnesota’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against its female citizens justifies the impact that application of the statute to the Jaycees may have on the male members’ associational freedoms. By prohibiting gender discrimination in places of public accommodation, the Minnesota Act protects the State’s citizenry from a number of serious social and personal harms. Assuring women equal access to goods, privileges, and advantages clearly furthers compelling state interests. In applying the Act to the Jaycees, the State has advanced those interests through the least restrictive means of achieving its ends. Finally, the effect of the Act is no greater than necessary to accomplish the State’s legitimate purposes.