A handful of U.S. senators is putting the squeeze on private clubs that discriminate against women and minorities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is voting today on a resolution that would make it more uncomfortable for judiciary aspirants to maintain their memberships in clubs where business is conducted and where membership is based on race, religion, sex or national origin.
The resolution states: "It is inappropriate today for individuals who may be nominated in the future to service in the federal judiciary or the Department of Justice to belong to such discriminatory clubs, unless such persons are actively engaged in bona fide efforts to eliminate the discriminatory practices."
If it is adopted, the resolution will be passed on to the president, attorney general and members of the Senate, "for use in considering future nominations to the federal bench and department of justice."
Seven senators on the 14-member committee sponsored the resolution, which needs eight votes for passage.
Though it is non-binding, supporters believe the resolution will raise the consciousness of those in the legal community who aspire to federal judgeships and Justice Department jobs and will increase pressure on clubs to amend bylaws.
Membership in discriminatory clubs "conflicts with the impartiality, and the appearance of impartiality, required of individuals who may serve in positions in the federal judiciary or the Department of Justice," the resolution states.
Opponents of the resolution, including Sen. Strom Thurmond, a member of the committee, argue that club membership is an inappropriate test for candidates, that the resolution infringes on rights of free association, and that it tarnishes people who do not intend to discriminate.
Membership in discriminatory clubs emerged as a problem for judicial candidates in confirmation procedures several years ago, but most nominees have defused the issue by resigning their memberships at the 11th hour. Senators supporting the resolution are taking a dim view of that.
Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, one of the resolution's sponsors, is quoted as stating that a candidate who "goes along with a private club's exclusionary policies but then resigns in order to take a seat on the bench does not demonstrate the kind of personal commitment to fairness and equal justice which we look for in a federal judge."
Catherine Boggs, president of Business and Professional Women/USA, said it was time "for the women in this country to have the assurance that the federal judges that they appear before as attorneys and as litigants, and the highest level of law enforcement officials of the Department of Justice, bring to their positions of trust a record that is free of affiliation" with clubs that discriminate.
As a partner in a Denver law firm, Ms. Boggs documented her personal problems with exclusion from prestigious clubs in her hometown.
Marcia D. Greenberger and Caroline Newkirk of the National Women's Law Center see the resolution as being of "undeniable importance to women's ongoing efforts to secure full equality in the workplace, in the courts and in society in general."
"The special role that the federal judiciary and department of justice officials play requires that nominees to these posts be sensitive to issues of race, sex, religious and national origin discrimination," they said at a hearing on the issue.
A statement from the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of organizations working for equal justice, said membership in the private clubs targeted by the resolution "amounts to nothing less than a tacit endorsement of discrimination," adding that such an affiliation raises questions about a nominee's ability to recognize "the often cloaked and varied forms by which discrimination still occurs in society."
Such "blind spots of bias" should disqualify candidates for federal judgeships and Justice Department jobs, the alliance said.
While few women are panting to join the good old boys as they belly up to their private bars, there is a growing resentment of the exclusion of women and minorities from the business that is conducted within the sanctified walls of these institutions.
And there is suspicion that the attitudes of exclusion and discrimination these clubs foster taint the judgment of its members who also interpret and enforce the laws of the land.
This suspicion is not limited to federal courts. Evidence of sexism throughout the judicial system led in New York State to the creation of the Task Force on Women and the Courts, which has been working to change a judicial climate that has been hostile to women in their roles as lawyers and litigants.