Plans to honor a new federal judge at a Southside Virginia private club stirred strong criticism yesterday from two statewide organizations contending the club discriminates against blacks and Jews.
Leaders of the Virginia chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith called on lawyer Jackson L. Kiser, scheduled to be sworn in as a U.S. District judge on Tuesday in Danville, to change the location of the reception.
"There's no question the reputation of the club is that it's discriminatory," said Norman Olshanksky, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Richmond. "Any argument to the contrary borders on the ludicrous."
Kiser, who was recommended for the judgeship by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and nominated by President Reagan, was attending a judicial seminar yesterday in Norfolk and could not be reached for comment.
Kiser earlier told reporters he was "going to make an effort" to have the reception moved from the Danville Golf Club, but said he was unsure whether he would be successful. "I feel like I'm duty bound to attend the reception, wherever it is," Kiser was quoted as saying.
The golf club is one of two private country clubs located in Danville, a textile town about 245 miles southwest of Washington near the North Carolina border.
"I know of no reason to change the location of the reception," said Gary Bengston, a 10-year member of the club and one of the lawyers involved in planning the reception. "The charge is not factual. There is no policy prohibiting anyone from becoming a member."
Olshanksky and Virginia ACLU executive director Chan Kendrick disputed that assertion, maintaining that no blacks and few, if any, Jews ever have been admitted to membership. "Many people who would like to attend a reception for Kiser might feel uncomfortable in those surroundings," Kendrick said.
Kiser, who lives and practices law in Martinsville about 40 miles west of Danville, is not a member of the club, according to several persons.
Olshanksky noted yesterday that Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. resigned from two Virginia country clubs in 1979, reportedly because they refused to end allegedly discriminatory membership policies.
One Danville businessman who is black, real estate salesman Charles Smith, said yesterday he plans to apply for membership in the Danville Golf Club because of the Kiser controversy.
"It's been almost impossible, a locked-in situation for blacks because you need two club members to act as sponsors," Smith said. "I've been interested [in joining] for the past five years. I've got the money."