Laurence H. Silberman told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that he would resign from the all-male Metropolitan Club, apparently clearing the way for his confirmation as a federal appeals court judge.
At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) threatened to try to block the nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals here unless Silberman quit the club at 17th and H Streets NW, because it does not admit women members.
Yesterday at a mark-up session Simon delayed committee action on Silberman for one week while the panel unanimously cleared three other judicial nominations by President Reagan to federal courts elsewhere in the country.
Silberman, a former deputy attorney general and ambassador to Yugoslavia, said he decided to quit the Metropolitan Club because "I didn't feel comfortable making an issue about it."
According to a 1985 roster, the club's membership includes a long list of prominent Washington figures, among them White House chief of staff Donald Regan, Episcopal Bishop John T. Walker, and five federal judges.
"I have no doubt that belonging to the club would not impair my ability to fairly decide cases," Silberman said in an interview. "Nevertheless, other people are worried about the appearances. I think they are wrong. But given the views of my wife, my daughters, and my daughter-in-law, I didn't want to make an argument about it."
Silberman added that he was also concerned about his nomination becoming "involved in partisan politics if Democrats in the Senate are taking the position that it is inappropriate for a judge to belong to a club that does not admit women."
An aide to Simon said the senator was satisfied with Silberman's decision, But the aide said that Simon and several other Democrats still had questions about Silberman's role as a top executive of the Crocker National Bank of San Francisco, which was recently fined $2.25 million for failing to report cash transactions from overseas banks totaling $3.98 billion.
The aide said Simon was hopeful that these concerns could be "satisfactorily resolved" before the committee meets to consider Silberman's nomination again next Thursday.
Yesterday, Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court in 1977 by President Carter, said he has belonged to the Metropolitan Club since 1955.
"I don't think my membership affects my judgment or my impartiality," Oberdorfer said.
Others who belong are U.S. District Judges Gerhard A. Gessell and Thomas P. Jackson and appeals court Judges Carl McGowan and Malcolm W. Wilkey.
Lloyd N. Cutler, a Metropolitan Club member, served as counsel to Carter and participated in selecting judicial nominees. He said the Carter administration had no requirement that proposed judges must quit single-sex clubs because it was "unnecessary." He said the issue is "remote from whether a judge will in fact be unbiased" and noted that Oberdorfer had served as a co-chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has played a prominent role in opposing race and sex discrimination.
The 122-year club now has over 2,000 members, including many prominent journalists, lawyers, and businessmen as well as government figures.
Included are columnists James B. Reston of The New York Times; Joseph Kraft and Philip L. Geyelin, of The Washington Post; lawyers Edward Bennett Williams, Wesley S. Williams Jr., and Charles S. Rhyne, former president of the American Bar Association; Henry A. Kissinger, former secretary of state; developer Oliver T. Carr Jr.; and Richard D. Simmons, president of the Washington Post Co.
At Silberman's confirmation hearing, Simon noted that a provision of the ABA's code of judicial conduct, adopted last year, says 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."