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.
Respondent organization had threatened to revoke the charters of two of its chapters because they were admitting women as regular members in violation of respondent's bylaws. Respondent sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Act), which required it to admit women as regular members. It argued that the Act violated its members' associational rights. The suit was dismissed without prejudice but was later renewed. The court entered judgment in favor of the state officials. The appellate court concluded that the Act, specifically Minn. Stat. § 363.03(3) (1982), violated respondent’s freedom of association. Petitioner human rights commissioner appealed. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court’s judgment.
Did the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Act), which required respondent organization to admit women as regular members, violate respondent’s freedom of association?
Several features of respondent organization clearly placed it outside of the category of relationships worthy of constitutional protection because it was a large and basically unselective group. Apart from age and sex, neither respondent nor its local chapters used any criteria for judging applicants for membership. Respondent lacked the distinctive characteristics that might afford constitutional protection to the decision of its members to exclude women. The state's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against its female citizens justified the impact that application of the act may have on the male members' associational freedoms.