The Supreme Court, opening its 1987-88 term with only eight justices on the bench, agreed yesterday to review the constitutionality of a New York law aimed at banning sex and race discrimination by all-male private clubs.
The New York law is similar to one passed last week by the D.C. City Council.
The justices, still awaiting a replacement for retired justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., yesterday let stand a lower court ruling that California's famous all-male Bohemian Club could not discriminate against women seeking jobs there, left intact another ruling that Random House cannot publish a biography of J.D. Salinger because too much of it came from his private letters, and declined to step into a controversy over the Oakland Raiders football team's move to Los Angeles.
The court added 21 cases to its docket. They included disputes over whether states may ban direct-mail advertisements by lawyers, whether prosecutors may force suspects to turn over foreign bank records and whether a newspaper may be held in contempt for publishing Federal Bureau of Investigation documents after a judge ordered it not to do so.
But the justices declined to hear some of the most highly publicized appeals. Sifting through more than 1,000 cases held over from last term or filed during the summer, the court:
Cleared the way for the Oct. 19 trial of former top White House aide Michael K. Deaver on perjury charges, letting stand a lower-court decision that his challenge to the constitutionality of the independent counsel was premature.
Declined to overrule a New York federal appeals court decision that lawsuits filed after the disaster at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, must be tried in that country. More than 2,000 people were killed and 200,000 injured after deadly gas escaped from a Union Carbide plant there. Several American lawyers, some of whom had gone to India to sign up clients, argued that the cases should be tried in this country. Let stand a ruling that former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda must turn over documents to an Alexandria federal grand jury investigating corruption.
Stalled the execution of serial killer Theodore R. Bundy, letting stand a lower court ruling that there must be a hearing on whether Bundy was mentally competent to stand trial for the murder of a 12-year-old girl.
Declined to hear appeals from eight lawsuits against a county prosecutor and other officials in Jordan, Minn., that grew out of a child sexual abuse investigation there in 1983-84. County attorney R. Kathleen Morris charged 24 adults with sexual abuse but then dropped charges against 21 of them after losing a trial against two defendants and allowing a third to plead guilty to reduced charges. The parents charged filed suits against Morris, local police and state and local officials, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed them on the grounds that the officials were immune from such suits.
Left intact a California Supreme Court ruling that the Fourth Amendment requires Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates to seek court approval before using a motorized battering ram mounted on a tank to crash into a house and serve a search warrant.
The state court said such approval is required before an "inherently dangerous" method can be used. The case arose after the police used the armored personnel carrier with a 14-foot steel battering ram against a heavily fortified house in which rock cocaine, or "crack," was sold.
Turned down the appeal of American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975 during a shoot-out at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier argued that a newly discovered ballistics report, withheld by the government, directly contradicted the most significant evidence against him. A federal appeals court rejected this argument, saying that the jury probably would have convicted him in any event.
Rejected appeals by black and white parents in Kansas City, Mo., who were trying to force neighboring suburbs to help desegregate the majority black city school system. The city argued that state and suburban officials had long worked to push blacks into city schools and should bear some responsibility and costs of desegregation.
The court, agreeing to hear the New York private clubs case, will consider for the third time in recent years what criteria distinguish private clubs that are free to discriminate from public ones that are subject to antidiscrimination laws.
New York's 1984 law, which bans discrimination in public accommodations, exempts certain benevolent orders and religious groups, but says other organizations are covered if they have more than 400 members, provide regular meals and receive payments for dues from members' employers. The law was upheld by the state's highest court.
The Supreme Court has ruled that states may force the U.S. Jaycees to admit women members and last term unanimously ruled that Rotary International must do so under a California law.
This year's case, New York State Club Association Inc. v. City of New York, is being closely watched because other cities have passed or are considering similar laws, including Buffalo, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit.
This trend, the club association said in its brief, is a "wholesale attack on the associational, privacy and speech rights of private club members." The association said the New York law is too sweeping and unconstitutionally puts purely private clubs in the same category as public accommodations.
The Bohemian Club appeal rejected by the court asked only whether states may ban employment discrimination -- not membership discrimination -- by private clubs.
The club, whose members include William F. Buckley Jr. and former California governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, said "the presence of women" at its club in San Francisco and its 2,500-acre retreat in Monte Rio, "would significantly alter the activities" of members.
The court, in Doe v. U.S., will face a recurrent problem for law enforcement officials trying to investigate major drug dealers, money launderers or people engaged in international fraud. Prosecutors often find that the financial records they need for successful prosecutions are in foreign bank accounts protected by foreign bank secrecy laws.
Although prosecutors can obtain access to domestic bank accounts without difficulty, federal courts are split over the ability of prosecutors to seek court orders requiring suspects to turn over foreign data.
The justices also agreed to consider whether post-Civil War antidiscrimination laws may require employers to pay punitive damages for racial harassment.
The case, Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, involves a lawsuit by a black woman who worked for a credit union in Winston-Salem, N.C. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said the woman, Brenda Patterson, could use the 1964 Civil Rights Act to sue her employer. But this law allows only collection of back pay. The appeals court said the older law covered discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions, but not harassment.
The lawyer-advertising case, Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association, involves a challenge to a state rule that forbids lawyers from direct-mail advertising to people known to need help, such as accident victims.
The high court in 1977 threw out traditional state bans on advertising, saying that, as long as it is not misleading, advertising by lawyers could not be banned outright. In 1985 it struck down broad state restrictions on newspaper and other ads.
The newspaper contempt case, U.S. v. Providence Journal Co., involves FBI files on former New England Mafia boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. The Providence Journal obtained the materials after Patriarca's death. A federal judge, acting on a request by Patriarca's son, issued a temporary order blocking the publication of the documents pending a hearing, but the Providence Journal published them anyway. The judge found the paper and its executive editor in contempt.