487 U.S. 1 (1988), 86-1836, New York State Club Association Inc. v. City of New York

Docket Nº:No. 86-1836
Citation:487 U.S. 1, 108 S.Ct. 2225, 101 L.Ed.2d 1, 56 U.S.L.W. 4653
Party Name:New York State Club Association Inc. v. City of New York
Case Date:June 20, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court

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487 U.S. 1 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 2225, 101 L.Ed.2d 1, 56 U.S.L.W. 4653

New York State Club Association Inc.


City of New York

No. 86-1836

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1988

Argued February 23, 1988



New York City's Human Rights Law forbids discrimination based on race, creed, [108 S.Ct. 2228] sex, and other grounds by any "place of public accommodation, resort or amusement," but specifically exempts "any institution, club or place of accommodation which is in its nature distinctly private." However, a 1984 amendment (Local Law 63) provides that any "institution, club or place of accommodation," other than a benevolent order or a religious corporation, "shall not be considered in its nature distinctly private" if it

has more than four hundred members, provides regular meal service and regularly receives payment . . . directly or indirectly from or on behalf of nonmembers for the furtherance of trade or business.

Immediately after Local Law 63 became effective, appellant association filed a state court suit against the city and some of its officials, seeking, inter alia, a declaration that the Law is unconstitutional on its face under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court entered a judgment upholding the Law, and the intermediate state appellate court and the Court of Appeals of New York affirmed.


1. Appellant, a nonprofit association consisting of a consortium of 125 other private New York clubs and associations, has standing to challenge Local Law 63's constitutionality in this Court on behalf of its members, since those members "would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right," under Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 343. Appellees' contention that appellant's member associations

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must have standing to sue only on behalf of themselves, and not on behalf of their own members, misreads Hunt, which simply requires that members have standing to bring the same suit. Here, appellant's member associations would have standing to bring this same challenge to Local Law 63 on behalf of their own individual members, since those individuals "are suffering immediate or threatened injury" to their associational rights as a result of the Law's enactment. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 511. Pp. 8-10.

2. Appellant's facial First Amendment attack cannot prevail. That attack must fail insofar as it is based on the claim that Local Law 63 is invalid in all of its applications. As appellant concedes, the Human Rights Law's antidiscrimination provisions may be constitutionally applied to at least some of the large covered clubs under Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, and Board of Directors of Rotary Int'l v. Rotary Club, 481 U.S. 537. In finding that clubs comparable in size to, or smaller than, clubs covered by the Human Rights Law were not protected private associations, Roberts and Rotary emphasized the regular participation of strangers at club meetings, a factor that is no more significant to defining a club's nonprivate nature than are Local Law 63's requirements that covered clubs provide "regular meal service" and receive regular nonmember payments "for the furtherance of trade or business." Similarly, Local Law 63 cannot be said to infringe upon every club member's right of expressive association, since, in the absence of specific evidence on the characteristics of any covered club, it must be assumed that many of the large clubs would be able to effectively advance their desired viewpoints without confining their membership to persons having, for example, the same sex or religion. Nor has appellant proved its claim that the Law is overbroad in that it applies to "distinctively private" clubs, since there is no evidence of any club, let alone a substantial number of clubs, for whom the Law impairs the ability to associate or to advocate public or private viewpoints. Thus, it must be assumed that the administrative and judicial opportunities available for individual associations to contest the Law's constitutionality as it may be applied against them are adequate to assure that any overbreadth will be curable through case-by-case analysis of specific facts. Pp. 10-15.

[108 S.Ct. 2229] 3. Appellant's facial equal protection attack on Local Law 63's exemption deeming benevolent orders and religious corporations to be "distinctly private" must also fail. The City Council could have reasonably believed that the exempted organizations are different in kind from appellant's members, in the crucial respect of whether business activity (and therefore business opportunities for minorities and women) is prevalent among them. Cf. Bryant v. Zimmerman, 278 U.S. 63. More

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over, New York law indicates that benevolent orders and religious corporations are unique, and thus that a rational basis exists for their exemption here. Appellant has failed to carry its considerable burden of showing that this view is erroneous and that the issue is not truly debatable, since there is no evidence that a detailed examination of the practices, purposes, and structures of the exempted organizations would show them to be identical to the private clubs covered by the Law in the critical respect of whether business activity is prevalent among them. Pp. 15-18.

69 N.Y.2d 211, 505 N.E.2d 915, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III, and an opinion of the Court with respect to Part IV, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which KENNEDY, J., joined, post, p. 18. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 20.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

New York City has adopted a local law that forbids discrimination by certain private clubs. The New York Court of Appeals rejected a facial challenge to this law based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments. We sit in review of that judgment.


In 1965, New York City adopted a Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination by any "place of public accommodation, resort or amusement."1 This term is defined broadly

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in the Law to cover such various places as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, hospitals, laundries, theaters, parks, public conveyances, and public halls, in addition to numerous other places that are specifically listed. N.Y.C.Admin. Code § 8-102(9) (1986). Yet the Law also exempted from its coverage various public educational facilities and "any institution, club or place of accommodation which proves that it is in its nature distinctly private." Ibid. The city adopted this Law soon after the Federal Government adopted civil rights legislation to bar discrimination [108 S.Ct. 2230] in places of public accommodation, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II, 78 Stat. 243, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(e).

In 1984, New York City amended its Human Rights Law. The basic purpose of the amendment is to prohibit discrimination in certain private clubs that are determined to be sufficiently "public" in nature that they do not fit properly within the exemption for "any institution, club or place of accommodation which is in its nature distinctly private." As the City Council stated at greater length:

It is hereby found and declared that the city of New York has a compelling interest in providing its citizens an environment where all persons, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sex, have a fair and equal opportunity to participate in the business and professional life of the city, and may be unfettered in availing themselves of employment opportunities. Although city, state and federal laws have been enacted to eliminate discrimination in employment, women and minority group members have not attained equal opportunity in business and the professions. One barrier to the advancement of women and minorities in the business and professional life of the city is the discriminatory practices of certain membership organizations where business

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deals are often made and personal contacts valuable for business purposes, employment and professional advancement are formed. While such organizations may avowedly be organized for social, cultural, civic or educational purposes, and while many perform valuable services to the community, the commercial nature of some of the activities occurring therein and the prejudicial impact of these activities on business, professional and employment opportunities of minorities and women cannot be ignored.

Local Law No. 63 of 1984, § 1, App. 14-15. For these reasons, the City Council found that "the public interest in equal opportunity" outweighs "the interest in private association asserted by club members." Ibid. It cautioned, however, that it did not purpose

to interfere in club activities or subject club operations to scrutiny beyond what is necessary in good faith to enforce the human rights law,

and the amendments were not intended as an attempt

to dictate the manner in which certain private clubs conduct their activities or select their members, except insofar as is necessary to ensure that clubs do not automatically exclude persons from consideration for membership or enjoyment of club accommodations and facilities and the advantages and privileges of membership, on account of invidious discrimination.


The specific change wrought by the amendment is to extend the antidiscrimination provisions of the Human Rights Law to any

institution, club or place of accommodation [that] has more than four hundred members, provides regular meal service...

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