Washington Post Blast: “Roberts Resisted Women's Rights”

The front page of Friday’s Washington Post features an article with a lead clearly framed through a liberal prism intended to paint Supreme Court nominee John Roberts as an extremist and/or a male chauvinist. “Roberts Resisted Women's Rights: 1982-86 Memos Detail Skepticism,” declares the headline over the August 19 story it took three reporters to research and write, Amy Goldstein, R. Jeffrey Smith and Jo Becker (along with six more credited at the end of the article.) The loaded lead: “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.’”A look at the full quote, however, shows that the Post distorted the personal aside in the memo. Roberts was not making a disparaging remark about women but -- in response to a judging panel at Clairol considering an award to a female White House staffer who had convinced some homemakers to go to law school -- he simply offered a quip about whether society needs more lawyers: "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."[Update, 11:30am EDT: The New York Times got the joke.]
[Update continued. The MRC's Rich Noyes pointed out to me this paragraph in today's NY Times article: "At other times his humor was clearly old school. In a 1985 memorandum on whether an administration official could be nominated for an award recognizing her transition from homemaker to lawyer, Mr. Roberts said, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."]
The Post evan managed to bring up the contras: “He also, the documents illustrate, played a bit role in the Reagan administration's efforts in Nicaragua to funnel assistance to CIA-supported 'contras’ who were trying overthrow the Marxist Sandinista government.”An excerpt from the August 19 page one article, starting with the second paragraph (first graph quoted above):

....In internal memos, Roberts urged President 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 equally to 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.Covering a period from 1982 to 1986 -- during his tenure as associate counsel to President Reagan -- the memos, letters and other writings show that Roberts endorsed a speech attacking "four decades of misguided" Supreme Court decisions on the role of religion in public life, urged the president to hold off saying AIDS could not be transmitted through casual contact until more research was done, and argued that promotions and firings in the workplace should be based entirely on merit, not affirmative action programs.In October 1983, Roberts said that he favored creation of a national identity card to prove American citizenship, even though the White House counsel's office was officially opposed to the idea. He wrote that such measures were needed in response to the "real threat to our social fabric posed by uncontrolled immigration."He also, the documents illustrate, played a bit role in the Reagan administration's efforts in Nicaragua to funnel assistance to CIA-supported "contras" who were trying overthrow the Marxist Sandinista government.In one instance, Roberts had a direct disagreement with the senator who now wields great influence over his confirmation prospects, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)...Yesterday's deluge of more than 38,000 pages of documents has particular political significance -- because of their content and their timing. The papers, held in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, are likely to be the last major set of written material from Roberts's past to become public before his confirmation hearings....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. Avery had been a schoolteacher who decided to change careers and went to law school.In a July 31 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."After the White House, Arey went on to run for Congress, serve on presidential advisory committees, work as an attorney at a major law firm in the West, serve as vice president for congressional relations for a Washington lobbying firm, and was eventually appointed in 2002 as a senior associate commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She has now retired.Roberts's comment about homemakers startled women across the ideological spectrum.... 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."...On other matters involving women's rights, Roberts in 1983 criticized a report that lauded strides by states to combat sex discrimination in the workplace, that had been endorsed by then-Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. In a Jan. 17 memo to his boss, White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, Roberts wrote that "many of the reported proposals and efforts are themselves highly objectionable." Roberts singled out three ideas for particular criticism: what he characterized as a California requirement that employers take into account affirmative action, in addition to seniority, when laying off workers; another California proposal to require women to be paid equally to men for state jobs considered of comparable worth, and a Florida proposal to charge women lower tuition than men at state colleges because their earning power was less....On matters of religion, Roberts was sympathetic to an expansion of its role in public life. Roberts wrote in 1984 that he found "sound and in my view compelling arguments" in favor of "equal access" legislation to require schools to accord student religious groups the same rights of assembly as other organizations.That same year, he was asked to review a draft speech to be given by then-Education Secretary William J. Bennett to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's organization. Other White House officials had said the speech was too divisive, as it criticized Supreme Court rulings that had blocked the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and prohibited public school teachers from giving remedial classes at parochial schools. "Bennett's point is that such decisions betray a hostility to religion not demanded by the constitution," Roberts said. "I have no quarrel with Bennett on the merits."Staff writer Ceci Connolly in Washington; staff writers Amy Argetsinger and Sonya Geis in Simi Valley, Calif., and researchers Jill Bartscht, Meg Smith and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center