SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court on Thursday refused to overturn an appellate ruling requiring the exclusive Jonathan Club to drop any discriminatory membership policies before expanding its facility on Santa Monica Beach.
But the justices held that the ruling should not be used as a legal precedent for other challenges by state officials to membership policies of private clubs.
The high court, in a brief order issued without dissent, refused to hear the Jonathan Club's appeal of a ruling last January by the state Court of Appeal. The appeal court had upheld the authority of the California Coastal Commission to require the club to agree it would not bar members because of race, sex or religion.
The requirement was adopted by the commission as a condition for permitting the club to expand its facility on public land it leases from the state.
The prestigious organization, long criticized for its allegedly discriminatory membership policies, refused to provide the commission with such assurances, contending the agency had no power to extract such pledges from a private club.
The club has said publicly in recent months that it does not bar women or minorities as members. The organization also said in court papers that it "does not discriminate in any of its membership practices or policies" and imposes no such restrictions in its bylaws or house rules.
The appeal court, giving the commission wide-ranging power to combat discrimination, ruled that there was sufficient "entanglement" between the state and the club to warrant the commission's action.
"Faced with the possibility of invidious discrimination on public property here, which the club refused to deny, the commission properly avoided placing the state's power, property and prestige behind the club's reputed membership policy," Appellate Justice Arleigh Woods wrote for the three-member panel.
Attorneys for the club appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the appellate ruling gave the commission unwarranted power to "intrude into the private affairs of every citizen of the state."
The state agency had no authority to determine the eligibility for membership in a private club, especially where there is clearly adequate separate public access to the beach, the club contended.
John R. Shiner of Los Angeles, an attorney for the club, declined to say whether the ruling would appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court or whether the organization would merely comply with the appellate panel's mandate.