The American Bar Association's House of Delegates was feeling pretty proud last January when, after a vigorous debate, it surprised itself and approved a resolution supporting legislation to ban discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin by business clubs.
Even though Congress hasn't made a move on the issue, an intense lobbying campaign against the ABA's stand was quickly under way and Thursday, when the ABA opens its annual meeting in San Francisco, one of the first items on the agenda will be a vote to reconsider January's decision.
The fight for reconsideration has been led by lobbyists for private clubs, invoking the names of Supreme Court Justices Brandeis and Douglas and arguing that a bill incorporating the ABA policy would mean an "unwarranted and outrageous interference of the government into private, personal affairs and decisions."
The ABA left it up to Congress to decide how to determine when clubs are truly private or when they are really extensions of the market place (and thus subject to antidiscrimination laws) because a substantial portion of their income comes from activities that members or their employers claim as business tax write-offs.
Opponents, led by the Conference of Private Organizations and the National Club Association, say the ABA policy would require investigation of personal tax forms and client entertainment lists of club members to determine who is public or private. Supporters say such extensive policing would not be necessary because members could just indicate on club records whether they are writing off expenses.
If the private clubs debate isn't enough to stir up the delegates, the agenda also includes two resolutions calling for serious negotiations to end the nuclear arms race.
Further fireworks are sure to fly when Omaha lawyer Bob Kutak takes the floor once again to try to convince the bar to accept an updated code of professional conduct. The big gripe with Kutak's effort comes from lawyers who say some of the proposals will force them to turn in their own clients to protect themselves.