Saturday, August 20, 2005

John Roberts, A Friend Of Women?

Probably not exactly. Roberts's early career shows a distinct tendency towards doubting the wisdom of equal rights for women. For example

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."

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."

Roberts's thoughts on what he called "perceived problems" of gender bias are contained in a vast batch of documents, released yesterday, that provide the clearest, most detailed mosaic so far of his political views on dozens of social and legal issues. Senators have said they plan to mine his past views on such topics, which could come before the high court, when his confirmation hearings begin the day after Labor Day.

Given that Roberts is to take the seat of Sandra O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, it is interesting to note that

As a lawyer in the Reagan White House, John Roberts scoffed at the notion of elevating Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to chief justice as a way to close a political gender gap, calling it a "crass political consideration."

On another topic, Roberts, who was nominated as a justice by President Bush last month, advised the White House to strike language from a description of a housing bill that referred to the "fundamental right to be free from discrimination." He said that "there of course is no such right."

The comparable worth theory of pay was one used by some states for determining wages and salaries in jobs traditionally held by one gender alone. It tried to address the kinds of problems that arose when a state would pay a nutritionist for children a lot less than someone who fed animals in a zoo, just because the former was more likely to be a woman than the latter and therefore had lower paying alternatives to the state employment. The idea was to list all the tasks that comprised a job and to price each of them independently of the market forces to arrive at final earnings scales. The nutritionist and the zoo employer might end up getting paid roughly the same salaries under such a scheme. This would create more work for the state and also possibly problems in the labor markets (lots of people wanting to be nutritionists, not that many wanting to work as animal feeders in zoos), and hence wasn't always popular even among liberals.

So attacking this particular theory doesn't necessarily mean that Roberts was opposed to women being treated better by the labor markets. Though it may mean just that. It's hard to know. What is fairly obvious from the above quotes is that Roberts was a flippant young lawyer with no understanding of women or their economic concerns. He was also obviously a full-blown conservative.

The important question is what Roberts is like today, as a middle-aged wingnut lawyer. Will he still oppose anything even faintly smelling of gender equality? Does he still think that there is no fundamental right to be free of discrimination? Does he believe that replacing O'Connor with Roberts is not based on "crass political considerations"? Is he a covert agent for the U.S. Branch of International Misogynists United? Remember that we are going to have this guy ruling over decisions for the next thirty years or so. Do we want him deciding on the rights of our granddaughters? Or the lack of such rights?

What are his views on abortion? Roberts refuses to give them. Don't we have a right to know how he would decide on a case that might overturn Roe vs. Wade? That Roe vs. Wade is currently established law is irrelevant for someone in the Supreme Court. Yet that is the answer Roberts has given: that he can't comment on established law.

And what else do we know of Roberts's views on women? Our friendly queen of the wingnuts, Phyllis Schlafly, argues that Roberts must value women more now as he married a feminist. Who is openly pro-life. And George Bush married a librarian, so whom people marry may not tell us very much about their general opinions.

I feel very dissatisfied with all I have learned about Roberts. Like after having an inadequate restaurant meal with a large check at the end. I want more food for thought. Or I want to cancel the check.