Roberts v. United States Jaycees

468 U.S. 609 (1984)

Quick Summary

In ‘Roberts v. United States Jaycees’, the Supreme Court faced a conflict between anti-discrimination efforts and First Amendment rights. The Jaycees (defendant) argued that their right to free association was violated by a state law requiring them to admit women as full members, opposed by Katherine Roberts (plaintiff), a state official.

The Supreme Court ruled that the State’s compelling interest in eliminating gender discrimination outweighed the Jaycees’ associational freedoms. The decision mandated that organizations like the Jaycees could not exclude women from full membership based on gender.

Facts of the Case

The United States Jaycees (defendant) is a nonprofit young men’s organization with a policy of granting full membership exclusively to males aged 18 to 35, while women and older men were only allowed associate membership with limited benefits. This exclusionary policy was challenged by two local chapters in Minneapolis and St. Paul after they admitted women as full members and faced revocation of their charters by the national organization.

The leaders of the local chapters claimed the policy violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), which prohibits sex-based discrimination in places of public accommodation. The national organization, in turn, sued Katherine Roberts (plaintiff), the state official charged with enforcing the MHRA, arguing that the Act violated their First Amendment rights of free association.

The case escalated through the legal system, with the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit siding with the Jaycees, stating that the MHRA’s application infringed upon the organization’s constitutional rights. This appeal by Roberts led to the involvement of the United States Supreme Court to resolve the conflict between state anti-discrimination efforts and constitutional freedom of association.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The local chapters filed discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
  2. The USJ initiated a federal lawsuit against state officials to prevent enforcement of the MHRA.
  3. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Jaycees were a ‘place of public accommodation’ under the MHRA.
  4. The federal suit proceeded to trial, with a district court ruling in favor of state officials.
  5. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, siding with the USJ.
  6. Roberts appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether requiring the United States Jaycees to admit women as full voting members under the Minnesota Human Rights Act violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the organization’s members.

Rule of Law

Associational freedoms are protected by the Constitution, but may be justifiably infringed by regulations serving compelling state interests through the least restrictive means.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court determined that while freedom of association is protected under the Constitution, it is not absolute. The Court differentiated between intimate association, which involves deep attachments and commitments among a small number of individuals, and expressive association, which relates to associating for purposes such as speech or religion.

The Jaycees’ large, unselective membership and inclusion of nonmembers in activities did not qualify for protection as intimate association. The Court then evaluated whether compelling state interests justified infringement on expressive association.

It concluded that Minnesota’s interest in eradicating gender discrimination was compelling enough to outweigh any infringement on associational freedoms. The Act did not target suppression of speech or ideas but aimed to eliminate discrimination and ensure equal access to goods and services. Therefore, applying the MHRA to compel acceptance of women as full members was justified, reversing the Eighth Circuit’s decision.


The United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, holding that requiring the United States Jaycees to admit women as full voting members under the Minnesota Human Rights Act did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of its members.

Key Takeaways

  1. Freedom of association is protected by the Constitution but is not absolute, especially when weighed against compelling state interests.
  2. Associations that are large and unselective do not receive protection for intimate association under constitutional freedom of association.
  3. State interests in eliminating discrimination can justify restrictions on associational freedoms if no less restrictive means are available.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a compelling state interest that can justify restrictions on constitutional rights?

A compelling state interest is a legal concept that refers to an essential or necessary objective a government must achieve, which can warrant overriding individual constitutional rights. These interests typically involve issues of high importance such as national security, public safety, or the protection of fundamental rights such as equality and non-discrimination.

  • For example: A law designed to ensure equal access to education, regardless of race, might justify infringing upon the rights of a private institution to select its students if it is found to be racially discriminatory.

How does the principle of least restrictive means apply to government regulations affecting constitutional freedoms?

The principle of the least restrictive means requires the government, when it enacts regulations that affect constitutional freedoms, to choose the option that minimally intrudes on those freedoms while still achieving its compelling objectives. This principle ensures that the liberty interests of individuals are respected as much as possible given the state’s goals.

  • For example: When safeguarding public health, a vaccination mandate might be considered more restrictive than alternative measures like mask mandates or social distancing requirements if the latter sufficiently contain the spread of a disease.

In what situations does a large and unselective membership affect an organization's claim to associative privacy?

An organization’s claim to associative privacy is weaker when it has a large and unselective membership because such groups are unlikely to foster the kind of intimate human relationships that are typically shielded from undue state intrusion. The broad exposure and lack of selectivity reduce expectations of privacy and the strength of constitutional protections for private association.

  • For example: A community club that is open to all residents without requirements for membership may have difficulty claiming associational privacy when the state implements laws requiring accessibility for individuals with disabilities.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Constitutional Law