The more I read about John Roberts, especially from his critics, the more I like him.
I might not agree with him 100% of the time, but what I’ve heard leaves me with the impression that he’s a really smart, sensible guy with a good sense of humor.
This article (sorry, registration required) is amazingly silly.
It says “Roberts Resisted Women’s Rights” because he opposed horrible policies which purported to help women, and he wrote a joke that the authors (and, apparently, their editors) didn’t understand.
The main policy issue was “comparable worth” which would do things like establish bureaucracies, rather than market forces, to determine whether secretaries should be paid as much as plumbers. Roberts correctly characterized this as “staggeringly pernicious” and “anti-capitalist”.
But here’s the best part:
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.”
This is obviously a lawyer joke, and one would have to be a humorless fool (or, perhaps, a recent immigrant) to not see that immediately. He wrote this memo to a woman! His wife is a very successful lawyer! The whole purpose of the award was to “Honor women who had changed their lives.” How could the theory that this remark was intended to disparage women be dominant in a reasonably intelligent mind for more than a second?
It gets funnier. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate steps right into it:
Finally, there’s the humorless-feminist tack. I vaguely remember this argument from the ’80s: It’s that women can’t take a joke. So that is the new defense: This wasn’t just a joke, it was a lawyer joke! That’s evidently the White House position, too: “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,” Steve Schmidt, a Bush spokesman told the Washington Post. “In this [housewives] memo, he offers a lawyer joke.”
I don’t quite know what to make of that argument.
It reminds me of one of my favorite lightbulb jokes:
Q. How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. I don’t know, but it’s NOT funny!
I suppose it’s possible that there is no actual phemonenon that this joke references…but that’s not the way to bet!
UPDATE: Cathy Young has an excellent op-ed on the Roberts as woman-hater slur.