Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. consistently opposed legal and legislative attempts to strengthen women's rights during his years as a legal adviser in the Reagan White House, disparaging what he called "the purported gender gap" and, at one point, questioning "whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good."The White House has decided the best thing to do is to pass it off as a joke.
His remark on whether homemakers should become lawyers came in 1985 in reply to a suggestion from Linda Chavez, then the White House's director of public liaison. Chavez had proposed entering her deputy, Linda Arey, in a contest sponsored by the Clairol shampoo company to honor women who had changed their lives after age 30. Arey had been a schoolteacher who decided to change careers and went to law school.
In a July 31, 1985, memo, Roberts noted that, as an assistant dean at the University of Richmond law school before she joined the Reagan administration, Arey had "encouraged many former homemakers to enter law school and become lawyers." Roberts said in his memo that he saw no legal objection to her taking part in the Clairol contest. Then he added a personal aside: "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."
For its part, the White House defended its nominee. "It's pretty clear from the more than 60,000 pages of documents that have been released that John Roberts has a great sense of humor," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Bush. "In this memo, he offers a lawyer joke."Um, not to be entirely flip, but what is exactly funny about Roberts's comment? Are they saying that unfunny sexist jokes are a sign of having a good sense of humor? Tie that in with his views on the wage gap and the ERA and we have ourselves a very funny man.
In internal memos, Roberts urged President Ronald Reagan to refrain from embracing any form of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment pending in Congress; he concluded that some state initiatives to curb workplace discrimination against women relied on legal tools that were "highly objectionable"; and he said that a controversial legal theory then in vogue -- of directing employers to pay women the same as men for jobs of "comparable worth" -- was "staggeringly pernicious" and "anti-capitalist."Women getting paid the same amount of money for the same job as a man is objectionable?
But it does get weirder. Check out Phyllis Schlafly's spin on Robert's comment.
Roberts's comment about homemakers startled women across the ideological spectrum. Phyllis Schlafly, the president of the conservative Eagle Forum who entered law school when she was 51, said, "It kind of sounds like a smart alecky comment." She noted that Roberts was "a young bachelor and hadn't seen a whole lot of life at that point."Um, the Right-wing Queen of the Anti-Feminists says Roberts can be trusted because he married a feminist and she thinks this is a good thing? Whaaaa? This is making my head hurt.
Schlafly said, "I knew Lyn Arey. She is a fine woman." But she added, "I don't think that disqualifies him. I think he got married to a feminist; he's learned a lot."
Now NOW's response is spot-on.
Kim Gandy, president of the liberal National Organization for Women, which already has opposed Roberts, reacted more harshly. "Oh. Wow. Good heavens," she said. "I find it quite shocking that a young lawyer, as he was at the time, had such Neanderthal ideas about women's place."Good heavens indeed. It wasn't 1968. It was 1985.