Friday, August 19, 2005


Under the modest headline "Roberts Resisted Women's Rights," the Washington Post offers this detail:
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."

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 Food and Drug Administration. She has retired.

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."

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."

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."
It could hardly be any clearer that Roberts wasn't denigrating women, he wasn't saying that women belong in the home, or anything of the sort: He was making a lawyer joke. If it needs to be spelled out, he was suggesting that lawyers are so disputatious and bad for society that we shouldn't be encouraging more people (of any sort) to become lawyers. The context happened to involve homemakers, but the joke would work just as well if it had been truck drivers or trash collectors or any other sort of occupation ("Some might question whether encouraging janitors to become lawyers contributes to the common good").

Of course, given that Roberts is a lawyer himself, he was merely showing a self-deprecating sense of humor. And for this he is to be pilloried 20 years later? Good heavens.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong -- who when not insanely partisan is a smart fellow -- disparages the Roberts memo. When the first (of many) commenters pointed out that Roberts was obviously making a lawyer joke, DeLong's first comment was this:
I know male right-wing activists--the kind who become Reagan administration junior staffers--of that time period. It's a lawyer joke, and it's a women joke. A better paraphrase would be: "A woman's place is in the kitchen, but maybe judges will like the eye-candy."
In response to that comment, I left two comments on DeLong's site. One quoted my own post here. The other responded to DeLong's pretense at analyzing Roberts' meaning. DeLong immediately deleted that comment. Here's what it said:
It is unfair to judge Roberts' meaning by referring to the supposed attitudes of unnamed "activists" who had nothing to do with Roberts himself, but who were merely the "kind" of people who worked for Reagan. Guilt by association? This doesn't even rise to that level. It's more like "guilt by free association in the mind of someone else."
Nothing uncivil there, just making the obvious point that it isn't fair to condemn Roberts not for what he said, but for being of the wrong "kind." Nonetheless, it was deleted. Apparently DeLong has quite the reputation for this sort of thing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuart - you find THE best items to post! Cross posted at my blog - thank you.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ironic thing is that if Schlafly and Gandy really understand the joke as being an anti-feminist jab, then aren't they implicitly saying that homemakers don't contribute to the common good as much as lawyers do?

It's the "women don't have to be just housewives" problem -- tell my mom she was "just" a housewife, and you will have two black eyes in a second.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geez...humor must be as decipherable as song lyrics to some.

Roberts is essentially saying that we're losing a known part of "the common good" (housewives) and changing their contribution into a negative one by them becoming lawyers. Then again, he says, the final interpretation is left to the judge.

2:16 AM  
Blogger sean said...

Yes, DeLong generally deletes comments that skewer him effectively, and frequently bars the posters thereof from further posting. It's the kind of--shall we say--highly regulated marketplace of ideas that left-liberals of DeLong's ilk generally favor. Thank God they aren't in charge of anything.

3:28 PM  

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