IPFS Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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For the record, I see little evidence President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge John G. Roberts of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, an honors graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law who has argued 39 cases before the high court, would try to dramatically downsize government or restore many of our lost liberties. Though he would have to be a little better than most of the current crop.

Nonetheless, those who make a business of “counting votes” in Washington estimate Judge Roberts has enough support to handily win Senate confirmation.

Nor do the members of the Senate lack for more valuable tasks. The Islamic radicals who blew up the World Trade Center remain mostly at large -- despite the damned fine job our billion-dollar TSA is doing at confiscating the nation’s tweezers and toenail clippers. The government is running roughshod over the will of the people on matters as diverse as eminent domain and medical marijuana; federal spending is out of control; and then there's the small matter of that ongoing little dust-up in Iraq.

But who cares? No votes to be garnered by wading in there.

Instead, many a senator today -- including even some of that odd breed known as “New England Republicans”? -- joins in a two-pronged attack on “any Bush nominee.” (To paraphrase Denzel Washington as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, it appears “Any Bush nominee will do.”)

The first part of the strategy is to demand every memo Mr. Roberts ever wrote in the course of his duties as an associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, shrieking “cover-up!” if any are ruled confidential.

(The Reagan Presidential Library on Monday released 5,393 pages of records relating to Roberts’ work in the Reagan administration from 1982 to 1986 -- 40,000 more pages are sought.)

The second part of the strategy is to pore through those piles of memos, seeking anything that can be used to convince the Bush-hating constituency of the Boston-to-Washington corridor that their watchdogs are standing tall in the fight against ... well, anything proposed by George Bush.

For instance, back in 1984, White House counsel John G. Roberts criticized three Republican congresswomen for supporting the radical idea of “comparable worth” as a means to -- in the words used by New York’s Newsday to report developments last week -- “create pay equality between men and women.”

Among those three wackos was Olympia Snowe, now a nanny-state senator from Maine.

“I honestly find it troubling that three Republican representatives are so quick to embrace such a radical redistributive concept,” Roberts wrote 21 years ago in a memo to his boss, White House counsel Fred Fielding. “Their slogan may as well be ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender.’ ”

At issue was a 1983 decision by a federal district in a case brought by the Washington State workers’ union, AFSCME, that gave back pay to workers in jobs mostly held by women. The three (New England) Republican women were urging the Reagan administration not to oppose the ruling.

The theory of “comparable worth” is that women should be paid the same as men who hold different jobs, so long as some court or government bureaucrat decides the two jobs present similar difficulties and require similar strength or talent (“such as male truck drivers vs. female laundry workers,” Newsday helpfully prompts us) -- regardless of how much employers actually have to bid in the real world to fill those different jobs, or how many people want to do them.

“It is difficult to exaggerate the perniciousness of the ‘comparable worth’ theory,” Roberts wrote. “It mandate nothing less than central planning of the economy by judges.”

The thing is, White House counsel Roberts was right, and Olympia Snowe -- to this day -- is wrong.

Apparently prodded by the Newsday reporter, who failed to reach either Nancy Johnson of Connecticut or former Rep. Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, Sen. Snowe said on Aug. 15 she hoped that 21 years later Roberts has an open mind on wage discrimination against women.

Not much of a battle cry, admittedly.

But “comparable worth” is quite different from the sensible and established doctrine that female truck drivers -- assuming the same experience and commitment to the job -- should be paid the same as male truck drivers.

Given how complex is the calculus of individual job choice, the only way to determine what different jobs are “worth” is to submit that judgment to the market. Otherwise, some “well-meaning” federal arbitrator could well rule that the strength and dexterity displayed by a female firefighter or transvestite tapdancer is “equivalent” to that displayed by a major league shortstop, and therefore rule that the first two must be handed back pay equivalent to the same pay rate as the Yankees infielder, to compensate for the “discrimination” that seems to arbitrarily bar women from the major leagues.

Before dismissing this as far-fetched, recall that male varsity college sports which generated good ticket sales and alumni financial support have already been cancelled under the federal doctrine that equal amounts must be spent to fund women’s lacrosse programs which draw no fans or private financial support to speak of. And let’s not even get into the EEOC and the “Hooters Guys.” Government PC squads care little for absurd costs or outcomes.

Furthermore, proponents of “comparable worth” might beware what they wish for: The German unemployment system recently denied benefits to a waitress who refused to take work “equivalent” to her former posting, the new job she turned down being one in a newly legalized brothel (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/01/30/wgerm30.xml.)

Female sketch artists who want the same pay as male architects are free to go back to school. For government to impose any other “solution” based on “equivalence” or “comparable worth” is monstrous and absurd. Yet for saying so, Judge Roberts -- who so far as we know has never paid a woman less than a man for doing the same work, or urged anyone else to do so -- now stands accused of favoring “wage discrimination against women.”

And there are 40,000 pages of memos left to go.

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