Since World War II, the advancement of women 's rights ranks along with the civil rights movement as one of the most important steps toward making the United States a more just society.
As that history of injustice was addressed in the 1970s and 1980s, how individual men responded was a test for males of that generation much as the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was a test for whites. In that sense, the question from the old union song "which side are you on? " mattered.
There were legitimate questions about how one remedy or another was formulated or enforced. But the bigger question for a white American during the civil rights era or a man during the rise of feminism was whether they recognized the underlying injustice that the remedies were designed to address.
Three Republican women in the House of Representatives Olympia Snowe of Maine, Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut implored the Reagan administration to accept a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of the principle. They wrote that "support for pay equity ... is not a partisan issue. "
As the issue heated up in early 1984, Roberts wrote two tartly worded memos, which showed which side he was on.
The first to his boss, Fred Fielding, on Feb. 3, 1984 denounced the notion of equal pay for comparable worth, saying "It is difficult to exaggerate the perniciousness of the 'comparable worth ' theory. It mandates nothing less than central planning of the economy by judges. "
Roberts returned to the issue in a second memo on Feb. 20, 1984, again using language that compared an approach toward rectifying wage discrimination against women to Soviet-style policies, the ultimate insult in the Reagan administration.
Roberts expressed annoyance that three Republican members of Congress would favor what he called "a radical redistributive concept. " He also cited possible justifications for paying women less than men for comparable work, such as the female tendency to lose seniority by leaving the work force for extended periods, presumably for child-rearing.
'To Each ... '
"Their slogan, " Roberts wrote, "may as well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender. ' "
The existence of these two memos was reported by the Washington Post on Aug. 16 near the end of a lengthy article on the National Archives ' release of Reagan-era documents on Roberts. But the slap at the women 's rights issue has drawn little attention.