Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis,
407 U.S. 163 (1972)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163 (1972)

Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis

No. 70-75

Argued February 28, 1972

Decided June 12, 1972

407 U.S. 163


Appellee Irvis, a Negro guest of a member of appellant, a private club, was refused service at the club's dining room and bar solely because of his race. In suing for injunctive relief, appellee contended that the discrimination was state action, and thus a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because the Pennsylvania liquor board had issued appellant a private club liquor license. The District Court found appellant's membership and guest practices discriminatory, agreed with appellee's view that state action was present, and declared the liquor license invalid as long as appellant continued its discriminatory practices. Appellant's motion to have the final decree limited to its guest policy was opposed by appellee, and the court denied the motion. Following the District Court's decision, the applicable bylaws were amended to exclude as guests those who would be excluded as members.


1. Appellee, who had not applied for or been denied membership in appellant private club, had no standing to contest appellant's membership practices. He did, however, have standing to litigate the constitutional validity of appellant's discriminatory policies toward members' guests, and his opposition to amendment of the judgment did not constitute a disclaimer of injunctive relief directed at appellant's guest policies. Pp. 407 U. S. 165-171.

2. The operation of Pennsylvania's regulatory scheme enforced by the state liquor board, except as noted below, does not sufficiently implicate the State in appellant's discriminatory guest practices so as to make those practices "state action" within the purview of the Equal Protection Clause, and there is no suggestion in the record that the State's regulation of the sale of liquor is intended overtly or covertly to encourage discrimination. Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U. S. 715, distinguished. Pp. 407 U. S. 171-177.

3. Pennsylvania liquor board's regulation requiring that "every club licensee shall adhere to all the provisions of its constitution and bylaws" in effect placed state sanctions behind the discriminatory guest practices that were enacted after the District Court's

Page 407 U. S. 164

decision, and enforcement of that regulation should be enjoined to the extent that it requires appellant to adhere to those practices. Pp. 407 U. S. 177-179.

318 . Supp. 1246, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 407 U. S. 179. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined post, p. 407 U. S. 184.

Primary Holding

Giving a liquor license to a private club that engages in discriminatory practices does not rise to the level of state action.


The Moose Lodge did not serve Irvis, an African-American man invited to its private dining room by a white member, because of his race. He argued that this constituted unconstitutional racial discrimination because the Lodge received a liquor license from the state. Since the state had control over granting liquor licenses and could issue only a limited number of them, the lower court ruled that this discriminatory conduct could be considered state action. It also noted that the state used its police powers to regulate the facilities and the licensing requirements of the Lodge, which was obliged to provide the state with the names and addresses of all of its members.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

Granting a liquor license to a private club for the benefit of its members and their guests is neutral conduct that does not use state authority to promote racial discrimination. Even if the club discriminates on the basis of race in its membership requirements, the state is not lending its prestige or support to the club, so state action cannot be found.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall

The state did in fact lend its prestige to a discriminatory group because it provided access to a limited resource. This means that the state promoted racial discrimination, so state action should be found. A liquor license may be granted under state law only if the recipient complies with its own bylaws, which essentially means that the state is requiring the club to engage in discrimination to receive the license. All of the liquor licenses for the city have been granted, so African-Americans now have a limited ability to purchase alcohol.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall

Case Commentary

This case fell under the prong of the state action doctrine that may arise when the state appears to approve, encourage, or facilitate a private entity that is engaged in discriminatory conduct. Otherwise, a private entity cannot be held responsible for a Fourteenth Amendment violation. The act of providing a liquor license did not rise to the level of entanglement needed to find that state action applies.

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