Court upholds anti-bias liquor rule

January 13, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld yesterday an Annapolis ordinance prohibiting private clubs that discriminate from holding liquor licenses, a ruling praised by civil rights advocates and criticized by members of the targeted club.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the City Council acted within its authority in 1990 when it passed a law prohibiting clubs with city liquor licenses from excluding members "on the basis of race, sex, religion, physical handicap or national origin."

"The authority over alcoholic beverage licenses granted by the General Assembly to the City of Annapolis . . . is very broad," Judge John C. Eldridge wrote.

The decision reversed a 1992 Anne Arundel Circuit Court decision that had invalidated the law and allowed the Annapolis Elks, Lodge Number 622, to keep its liquor license.

Vernon "Joe" Dorr, the exalted ruler of the lodge, said yesterday's ruling probably will speed lodge members' plans to move from the building on Rowe Boulevard to quarters outside the city.

Civil rights advocates called the appellate court decision a milestone in efforts to open doors to minorities and women.

"This is the most important legal achievement of my political career," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist who sponsored the legislation.

Annapolis is the only city in Maryland with such a law, but the ruling could prompt other subdivisions to pass similar laws, said Stuart Comstock-Gay, head of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It might open the door, now that this issue has been resolved," he said.

The City Council adopted the law 5-4 on April 9, 1990. The Elks Lodge, which prohibits women in its by-laws and has not had a black member in its 90-year history, sued to block the law's enforcement.

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