WASHINGTON — The National Organization for Women Thursday became the first major interest group to announce its opposition to Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy, charging that he is a "sexist" and citing his recent membership in male-only private clubs.
"I'm here to say it is totally unacceptable for a sexist to sit on the Supreme Court," NOW President Molly Yard declared in announcing the 160,000-member group's position at a press conference. It would be a "disaster for women" if the Sacramento federal appellate judge is confirmed by the Senate for the post, she said.
Yard said the group's decision was based in part on Kennedy's membership in the Olympic Club in San Francisco, which was accused by the city of "invidious discrimination" in a lawsuit earlier this month, and the all-male Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento. He resigned from both last month after he became a leading candidate for a high court nomination.
The group also cited as objectionable Kennedy's 1985 appeals court decision against a group of women employees in Washington state who were seeking higher salaries on the basis of "comparable worth."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 23, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
A story on Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy published in The Times Friday incorrectly listed the Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento among all-male clubs to which the judge had belonged. Club officials said the club has a number of female members.
Official Declines Comment
A Justice Department official declined comment on NOW's charges and Kennedy could not be reached.
NOW's blast against the California jurist was meant to be heard not only at the Senate, which will vote on his nomination, but at other civil rights groups that have been restrained in their reaction to President Reagan's third candidate for the vacant high court seat. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the coalition of more than 170 organizations that fiercely fought the confirmation of Robert H. Bork, Reagan's first nominee for the vacancy, met Thursday to discuss the more moderate Kennedy but did not decide whether to oppose or endorse him.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss when to begin Kennedy's confirmation hearings but adjourned without choosing between mid-December or January. Most of the civil rights groups urged the committee to wait until the later date, contending that they and others need more time to review Kennedy's 12-year record on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Urge Hearings Be Soon
The White House and Senate Republicans have urged the committee to begin hearings as soon as possible, hoping that Kennedy can be confirmed before the 1988 presidential race heats up.
The American Bar Assn. amended its Code of Judicial Conduct in 1984 to say: "It is inappropriate for a judge to hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin." But the code goes on to say that determining whether a club engages in such discrimination is a "complex question" that judges must resolve individually.
On Oct. 15, the Olympic Club voted to maintain its long-standing rule against admitting women as full members. It has no written policy barring blacks but there are no black members. On Nov. 2, the city of San Francisco, which leases land to the club, filed suit in state court seeking to force the club to open its membership under California's anti-discrimination statute.
Quits Third Club
Kennedy was a member of a third all-male club, the Sutter Club in Sacramento, but quit in 1980.
Most civil rights activists in Washington say that they are withholding judgment on Kennedy until they conclude how to interpret his judicial record. When his selection was announced Nov. 11, most commentators--liberal and conservative--said that he appeared to be a moderate conservative whose opinions resembled those of retired Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.
Since then, some who have read Kennedy's more than 400 opinions have said that they see no pattern of strident conservativism that would justify opposing the nominee, while others have said that Kennedy reaches the same results as the more doctrinaire Bork without the florid rhetoric.
The 1985 opinion targeted by NOW involved a unanimous decision by Kennedy and two other appeals court judges to overturn a lower court ruling that the state of Washington had discriminated against its female employees by paying nurses, secretaries and other clerical employees less than men who worked in other jobs.
Staff Writer Douglas Jehl in Sacramento contributed to this story.