William French Smith, President-elect Ronald Reagan's choice to be the next attorny general, said yesterday he did not think he had to resign from two private clubs that exclude women to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
"I do not think we have reached the point where belonging to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, going to a women's college or a men's college or even playing on a female or male Davis Cup team should be viewed as evidence of discriminatory attitudes," Smith told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding his confirmation hearing. "I am completely satisified that neither of these two clubs has discriminatory practices."
Despite requests by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) that Smith resign from the California Club and the Bohemian Club of San Fransco as an example to the nation, Smith indicated he had no intention of doing so. Smith said that while the clubs have no women members, both have Hispanic, Oriental and Jewish members and the Bohemian Club has black members.
"I'm sure," Smith said, "that a qualified black would be accepted by the California Club."
The Bohemian Club is involved in an employment discrimination suit by California because it does not hire women. During testimony in October, several members argued that hiring women waitresses would alter club members' behavior, particularly during annual 17-day wilderness retreats outside San Francisco.
One of the activities at the retreats is presentation of plays -- some "serious" and others "burlesques" -- in which members sometimes fake female roles. The roles range from Queen Elizabeth to "wood nymphs" in which a San Francisco attorney. Maurice DeLano Fuller, said he was "dressed with wings and body stockings and the like." Fuller's comments appear in transcripts in connection with the lawsuit.
"The problem an amateur has when he does some acting is the concern that he is going to make a fool of himself," Fuller said, adding the problem grows with age and would worsen if women were present.
Other witnesses, according to the suit transcripts, said Bohemian Club members felt free, in the outdoor setting, "to pee on a tree" and all that would change with women around here.
The club, almost a California institution, is more than 100 years old, has a 13-year waiting list and a membership that includes authors Allen Drury, Herman Wouk and Irving Stone, columnist William Buckley, San Francisco Examiner editor Reg Murphy and actors Eddie Albert, Dan Rowan and George Gobel.
Pressing Smith hardest on the issue of his club memberships, Biden said he thought Smith had a "generational blind spot" in thinking the women's movement is an unimportant consequence.
"Even if you don't resign, which I've asked you to do, at least you should become aware of the point I am trying to make," Biden said. "You telegraph an insentivity to this issue. I hope in the next several months you go through some sentizing on this issue."
Not only the two senators on the Judiciary Committee asked Smith to resign from the two clubs. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), one of the two California senators who introduced Smith to the panel, called on Smith to resign his memberships. So did women's organizations, including the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus and the League of Women Voters.
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), while not asking Smith to resign, pointed out that the job of attorney general would put him in a position of such high visibility that he should think of resigning to avoid a bad appearance.
"What affects you also affects the president of the United States," Mathias said. "Your interests have to be subordinated to the interests of the president."
The issue of Smith's membership in the two clubs was the only real bone of contention between him and the 18 senators on the Judiciary Committee. While the senators questioned him on a broad range of legal issues from the Voting Rights Act to the Fair Housing Bill, Smith either answered he was not sufficiently versed in the law to give a comprehansive answer or he apparently gave them the answer they wanted to hear.
Asked what he thought would be the most important issue he would face as attorney general, Smith replied that it would be the "balancing act" between state's rights and individual rights.
"The most important problem I face," the 63-year-old white-haired lawyer from Los Angeles said, "is balancing the rights of society and government against the rights of the individual. If I can conclude my term of office by accomplishing that balance, that would be the best thing to say about my tenure."
Smith, a specialist in labor and management law who gave up his partnership in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, one of California's largest law firms, said he felt he was qualified to be attorney general even though he is not familiar with many aspects of criminal law, civil rights law or law enforcement practices.
"It would border on the fraudulent if I were foolhardy enough to answer questions on specific antitrust legislation," Smith said, "but that's not the kind of job the attorney general is. I think it's safe to say a person could be in the Justice Department for several years and still not be aware of what its many divisions do."
Smith went on to voice his opinions on a variety of issues, ranging from legalization of marijuana to the fight on organized crime. He said his top priority would be stemming the rising tide of crime.
"My first priority would be violent crime," Smith said, "closely followed by organized crime, drug enforcement and white collar crime."
Smith said he is against legalization of marijuana but that his opposition to decriminalizing the use is not "irreversible."
He said he favors capital punishment "in specific cases" and generally would back legislation that would sentence multiple criminal offenders (four serious felonies) to life punishment.
The nominee was asked if he felt the Abscam investigation in which six congressmen and one senator were indicted represented entrapment by the FBI. Smith replied: "We have to recognize that investigative agencies must engage in undercover operations. That's part of their function and that activity is permissible and appropriate."
On civil rights, Smith said: "I am committed to a vigorous enforcement of all civil rights statutes."