Roberts Knocked Affirmative Action

JULY 29: Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts meets with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) in Byrd's office July 29, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Roberts was making the rounds on Capitol Hill after President George W. Bush nominated him to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. CBS/AP

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts criticized state efforts to battle sex discrimination, calling programs promoting affirmative action and comparable worth "highly objectionable" in his legal advice to President Reagan.

Roberts, who has been nominated by President Bush to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, worked as associate counsel in the Reagan White House in the early 1980s during Reagan's first term.

In a Jan. 17, 1983, memo, Roberts was responding to a "Fifty States Project," which he described as addressing "perceived problems of gender discrimination" and which was to be sent to state leaders and women's groups.

He advised the White House to exercise caution in showing support for the proposals.

"Many of the reported proposals and efforts are themselves highly objectionable," Roberts wrote in a memo to then-White House counsel Fred Fielding, his boss.

"The California section of the report, for example, points to a passage of a law requiring the order of layoff to reflect affirmative action programs and not merely seniority (contrast our position in the Boston layoff case) and a staggeringly pernicious law codifying the anti-capitalist notion of 'comparable worth' (as opposed to market value) pay scales."

He also said that a Florida plan to charge women less tuition at state schools because they have less earning potential was "presumably unconstitutional."

Later in a Sept. 26, 1983 memo, Roberts showed skepticism for an equal rights amendment to the Constitution to "bridge the purported 'gender gap."' Responding to a letter from the Los Angeles Professional Republican Women, Roberts said the social rights issue was beyond the reach of federal courts.

"Any amendment would ipso facto override the prerogatives of the states and vest the federal judiciary with broader powers in this area, two of the central objections to the ERA," Roberts wrote.

Roberts also took a small shot at Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., while at the White House.

In 1983, Specter was considering a series of criminal justice proposals that would have cost $8 billion a year over a 5-10 year period. Specter's staffers were looking for White House approval of the idea, saying the proposals would reduce violent crime by 50 percent.

Roberts wrote on March 11, 1983, it was unlikely the proposals would receive serious consideration by the White House. "The proposals are the epitome of the 'throw money at the problem' approach repeatedly rejected by administration spokesmen," he said.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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