Monday, August 22, 2005

Roberts argued for ID card, against women's rights act


Roberts argued for ID card, against women's rights act
By Joan Biskupic and Toni Locy, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — When he worked in the Reagan White House in 1983, John Roberts made the case for a national ID card, saying in a memo that it would help address the "real threat to our social fabric posed by uncontrolled immigration."

The personal views of Roberts, whom President Bush has nominated to the Supreme Court, continued to emerge Thursday as the National Archives released more than 38,000 pages from his work in the White House counsel's office from 1982 to 1986. Combined with another 13,000 pages released previously, the documents portray Roberts as a young aide who embraced Reagan's conservatism — but who occasionally argued against administration policy.

"I recognize that our office is on record in opposition to a secure national identifier, and I will be ever alert to defend that position," Roberts wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding on Oct. 21, 1983. "I should point out, however, that I personally do not agree with it. I yield to no one in the area of commitment to individual liberty against the spectre of overreaching central authority, but view such concerns as largely symbolic as far as a national ID card is concerned."

Roberts said the USA already had "for all intents and purposes, a national identifier — the Social Security number." A national ID would not "suddenly mean constitutional protections would evaporate and you could be arbitrarily stopped on the street and asked to produce it."

The idea of a national ID card to protect against illegal immigration and the counterfeiting of documents has gained interest within the U.S. government since the 9/11 attacks made domestic security more of a priority. It remains controversial, largely because of concerns about potential civil liberties violations.

Thursday's documents also reinforced a picture of Roberts as a vigorous conservative, particularly on issues involving women's rights. At times he was derisive, using words such as "purported" and "perceived" to describe discrimination against women.

In a Jan. 17, 1983, memo, Roberts was caustic in reviewing a "Fifty States Project" that Elizabeth Dole had compiled to show states' progress on women's rights. He described it as addressing "perceived problems of gender discrimination." Roberts found the state-by-state breakdown "highly objectionable."

He wrote that California had passed "a staggeringly pernicious law codifying the anti-capitalist idea of 'comparable worth' ... pay scales."

"Comparable worth" was the controversial notion that women and men should receive equal pay for different jobs that had comparable value, based on factors such as the workers' skills and responsibilities.

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

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

In a Sept. 26, 1983, memo, Roberts repeated his disdain for the Equal Rights Amendment, which had fallen short of ratification by the states in 1982. A Republican women's group had proposed that the Reagan administration support a new version of the ERA that would guarantee equal rights for women.

Roberts emphatically rejected the proposal. "Any amendment would ... 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," he wrote. He said that if Reagan were to support such a change, "the president would be perceived as crassly opportunistic, and would risk losing the devotion of some of this most loyal supporters."

Thursday's papers were not from Roberts' work as deputy U.S. solicitor general from 1989 to 1993, when he helped shape the first Bush administration's legal strategy on divisive issues such as abortion rights and school prayer. The White House has rebuffed requests by Senate Democrats to release those papers.

Thursday's papers also included memos from the lighter side of Roberts' work. In one memo, Roberts, who was born in Buffalo and grew up in Indiana, took aim at newspaper columnists who criticized Reagan's use of the word "keister." In a Feb. 7, 1983, memo, Roberts wrote, "Frankly, I've had it up to my keister with newspaper columns about an expression fairly common to those of us reared in the Midwest."

Contributing: William Risser

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