September 23, 2008

Obama & McCain on Equal Pay

Today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Equal Pay for Equal Work" is the latest example of Democrats’ attempts to make a campaign issue out of alleged pay discrimination against women. Democrats are clearly worried about the women’s vote in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat and Sarah Palin’s emergence. No Democrat has tried harder to exploit the pay issue than Barack Obama, whose surrogates and ads have repeatedly alleged that John McCain opposes equal pay for women. For example, a recent Obama TV ad claims that McCain “opposed a law to guarantee women equal pay for equal work” (link to ad below).

These claims stretch the truth beyond recognition, so let’s look at the facts. As a result of the 1963 Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, pay discrimination against women has been unlawful for more than forty years. Obama’s claims are always left vague enough to give the impression that McCain opposes such laws. In reality, John McCain was not in Congress when these statutes were enacted and, needless to say, has never expressed disapproval of them.

What the Obama campaign is alluding to and distorting are Sen. McCain’s reservations about a bill that would overrule the Supreme Court’s take on a technical statute of limitations issue. The bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is named after the star witness at today’s hearing and the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case at issue, Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The Court rejected Lilly Ledbetter’s claim that Title VII’s statute of limitations is reset with each paycheck, declining to establish a special rule for pay discrimination cases. Whatever one thinks of the technical issue in the Ledbetter case, it requires an unbelievable stretch to equate opposition to overruling the decision with opposition to equal pay for women.

In its attempt to win over Hillary supporters, the Obama campaign has also attacked John McCain’s vote against the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden. These attacks conveniently ignore the important fact that a central provision of the statute – opening the federal courts to civil rights claims by female victims of violence – was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison. The Supreme Court had to step in because too few members of Congress had the courage to put the Constitution above the political appeal of VAWA.

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