McCain and Ledbetter

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

McCAIN AND LEDBETTER....Listening to Hillary's speech last night, Marian turned to me and asked, "Does McCain really oppose equal pay for equal work?" It was a little complicated to try and answer that while the speech was still in progress, so I just mumbled something about his voting record and turned back to the TV. Ramesh Ponnuru, however, asks the question more precisely:

Hillary Clinton on McCain: "In 2008, he still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work." Right: Opposing the Lily Ledbetter Act means approving of unequal pay for women. What a disgusting comment.

John Holbo answers:

But what's disgusting about it, from a conservative perspective? She seems to be making a point of being scrupulously accurate. In this context, saying 'it's okay' amounts to saying that the thing in question is maybe a little bad, but it doesn't matter much, so you needn't — therefore shouldn't — do anything about it. As in: 'do you need a band-aid for that?' 'No, it's ok.' A sense that unequal pay for women 'is ok', in this sense, is precisely the reason one would oppose the Lily Ledbetter Act.

Right. Ledbetter worked at Goodyear Tire for years, eventually discovered that she had been the victim of persistent wage discrimination, sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and then lost her case when the Supreme Court ruled that you can only bring wage discrimination cases within 180 days of the discrimination happening. Since practically no one ever finds out about this kind of thing within 180 days, it effectively gutted Title VII completely.

Now, one of the arguments legal conservatives made at the time was that even if you thought this was a strained, absurdly narrow reading of the law, it was a reading of a law. Since Congress can change laws, it's reasonable for the court to make cautious, narrow readings in statutory cases in the knowledge that they aren't necessarily preserving ancient prejudices in amber forever. Just change the law!

Which, needless to say, the Democratic congress tried to do. But Republicans made it a cause celebre, insisted the Republic would fall if victims of wage discrimination actually had reasonable recourse in the courts, and filibustered the attempt. John McCain supported the filibuster, which means that for all practical purposes, the Title VII ban on wage discrimination is a dead letter. It might as well not be on the books.

So: does McCain think it's OK to oppose equal pay for equal work? He sure doesn't seem to mind it much. He didn't propose any changes to the Ledbetter Act or work to make it more palatable to conservatives. He just opposed it (though, as usual, he skipped the actual vote). So now, if you're the victim of wage discrimination, you essentially have no recourse. And John McCain thinks that's fine.