Roberts v. United States Jaycees

Why do you think this decision was unanimous? How did Justice Brennan affirm the right to freedom of association under the First Amendment? How did the Court weigh freedom of association against antidiscrimination law? What are the different kinds of associations Justice Brennan described? Explain his statement: “Between these poles, of course, lies a broad range of human relationships that may make greater or lesser claims to constitutional protection from particular incursions by the state.” Why are some associations entitled to more protection than others? Do you agree? What “features” of the Jaycees did not warrant the heightened protection of other kinds of associations?
Compare Brennan’s reasoning in Roberts with Rehnquist’s opinion in Boy Scouts v. Dale. Compare the Court’s opinion in NAACP with Roberts. Why did the claim of association prevail in NAACP but not in Roberts? Do you agree?

Established in 1920, the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) is a nonprofit, private organization dedicated to assisting young men in philanthropic, educational, and civic enterprises. The by-laws of the national organization stipulated both regular and associate membership. Regular membership, which included privileges of voting and officeholding, was restricted to males age eighteen to thirty-five. Associate membership did not include these privileges but was open to women and older men. In disregard of the national by-laws, the Minnesota chapter admitted women as regular members with voting and officeholding rights. The national organization sought to revoke the chapter’s membership for this infraction. Kathryn R. Roberts, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, sued in defense of the Minnesota chapter. She claimed that the national organization’s ban on women from regular membership violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act as “an unfair discriminatory practice.” The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the national Jaycees against Roberts.

The Supreme Court reversed in a unanimous 7–0 decision. (Chief Justice Warren Burger [1907–1995] and Justice Harry Blackmun [1908–1999] did not take part in the case.) Roberts v. United States Jaycees was the first case in which the Court sought to balance the group rights of association with the state’s interest in preventing discrimination. In striking this balance, Brennan’s opinion distinguished a broad spectrum of different kinds of associations and their corresponding levels of First Amendment protection. In sum, while affirming that the First Amendment includes a right to association, Justice William J. Brennan (1906–1997) concluded that this right is not absolute.

—Joseph R. Fornieri

Source: 468 U.S. 609,

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to address 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. In the decision under review, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that, by requiring the United States Jaycees to admit women as full voting members, the Minnesota Human Rights Act violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the organization’s members. We . . . now reverse. . . .

Our decisions have referred to constitutionally protected “freedom of association” in two distinct senses. In one line of decisions, the Court has concluded that choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion by the state because of the role of such relationships in safeguarding the individual freedom that is central to our constitutional scheme. In this respect, freedom of association receives protection as a fundamental element of personal liberty. In another set of decisions, the Court has recognized a right to associate for the purpose of engaging in those activities protected by the First Amendment—speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the exercise of religion. The Constitution guarantees freedom of association of this kind as an indispensable means of preserving other individual liberties. The intrinsic and instrumental features of constitutionally protected association may, of course, coincide. In particular, when the state interferes with individuals’ selection of those with whom they wish to join in a common endeavor, freedom of association in both of its forms may be implicated. The Jaycees contend that this is such a case. Still, the nature and degree of constitutional protection afforded freedom of association may vary depending on the extent to which one or the other aspect of the constitutionally protected liberty is at stake in a given case. We therefore find it useful to consider separately the effect of applying the Minnesota statute to the Jaycees on what could be called its members’ freedom of intimate association and their freedom of expressive association.

The Court has long recognized that, because the Bill of Rights is designed to secure individual liberty, it must afford the formation and preservation of certain kinds of highly personal relationships a substantial measure of sanctuary from unjustified interference by the state (e.g., Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925; Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923). Without precisely identifying every consideration that may underlie this type of constitutional protection, we have noted that certain kinds of personal bonds have played a critical role in the culture and traditions of the nation by cultivating and transmitting shared ideals and beliefs; they thereby foster diversity and act as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the state. Moreover, the constitutional shelter afforded such relationships reflects the realization that individuals draw much of their emotional enrichment from close ties with others. Protecting these relationships from unwarranted state interference therefore safeguards the ability independently to define one’s identity that is central to any concept of liberty.

The personal affiliations that exemplify these considerations, and that therefore suggest some relevant limitations on the relationships that might be entitled to this sort of constitutional protection, are those that attend the creation and sustenance of a family—marriage (e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail); childbirth (e.g., Carey v. Population Services International); the raising and education of children (e.g., Smith v. Organization of Foster Families); and cohabitation with one’s relatives (e.g., Moore v. East Cleveland). Family relationships, by their nature, involve deep attachments and commitments to the necessarily few other individuals with whom one shares not only a special community of thoughts, experiences, and beliefs, but also distinctively personal aspects of one’s life. Among other things, therefore, they are distinguished by such attributes as relative smallness, a high degree of selectivity in decisions to begin and maintain the affiliation, and seclusion from others in critical aspects of the relationship. As a general matter, only relationships with these sorts of qualities are likely to reflect the considerations that have led to an understanding of freedom of association as an intrinsic element of personal liberty. Conversely, an association lacking these qualities—such as a large business enterprise—seems remote from the concerns giving rise to this constitutional protection. Accordingly, the Constitution undoubtedly imposes constraints on the state’s power to control the selection of one’s spouse that would not apply to regulations affecting the choice of one’s fellow employees.

Between these poles, of course, lies a broad range of human relationships that may make greater or lesser claims to constitutional protection from particular incursions by the state. Determining the limits of state authority over an individual’s freedom to enter into a particular association therefore unavoidably entails a careful assessment of where that relationship’s objective characteristics locate it on a spectrum from the most intimate to the most attenuated of personal attachments. We need not mark the potentially significant points on this terrain with any precision. We note only that factors that may be rele