Democrats sift through first Roberts documents, criticize White House |

Democrats sift through first Roberts documents, criticize White House

WASHINGTON – Frustrated Senate Democrats struggled to unearth Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ elusive views on abortion, civil rights and other controversial issues Tuesday, digging through newly released government documents while criticizing the White House for refusing access to thousands more.”It’s more than what they need,” President Bush’s spokesman said of the material being turned over.The disagreement over access to decades-old government records flared as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that, if confirmed, Roberts would not be bound by an earlier statement that the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion was settled law.Gonzales told The Associated Press in an interview that “a Supreme Court justice is not obliged to follow precedent if you believe it’s wrong.”One week after Bush nominated Roberts to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor on the high court, the 50-year-old appeals court judge seemed to float above the fray as he continued courtesy calls on senators.At the same time, Senate Republicans and the White House worked to try to assure a confirmation vote before the court begins a new term. “Our duty is to have a justice seated by the first Monday in October, which is October 3rd,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee.Specter said he would convene hearings as early as Aug. 29 if necessary to meet that timetable. A later date – perhaps Sept. 6 – was also possible, he said, depending on what type of assurances Democrats were willing to make.Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to cooperate with the GOP.”But moving forward on a schedule will also require the White House’s cooperation with senators in answering their questions about this nomination,” Leahy added.Leahy and other Democrats on the panel wrote to Bush that they were disappointed that the White House has declared some documents off limits.Committee aides began sifting through the first of thousands of documents to be made available, dating from Roberts’ tenure as a special assistant in the Justice Department in 1981-82, and in the White House counsel’s office in 1983-86.As a historical footnote, one memo was hard to beat – a one-page paper in which the young Roberts reported that beginning “my first day on the job” he had been helping O’Connor prep for her own confirmation hearings to the high court.Other memos from 1982 showed Roberts advising Attorney General William French Smith to support Republican-led efforts in Congress to limit the federal judiciary’s power to decide hot-button social issues such as abortion and school prayer.In a document dated Feb. 16, 1982, Roberts offered further suggestions to Smith, who was girding for an appearance before conservatives unhappy with judicial nominations early in the Reagan administration.”It really should not matter what the personal ideology of our appointees may be, so long as they recognize that their ideology should have no role in the decisional process,” Roberts wrote.It is a point that the Bush administration is making now – that regardless of Roberts’ personal views, he will rule based on the Constitution and court precedent.It is also a point that Democrats find maddening, particularly since Roberts has left a relatively small paper trail that might confirm their suspicions that he will attempt to move the court to the right.Democrats said other documents already in their possession, dating from Roberts’ time in the White House counsel’s office later in the Reagan administration, give them reason for concern.One showed him recommending against the broadening of anti-discrimination provisions applied to colleges whose students received federal financial assistance.”From what we know now, John Roberts had a hand in some of the most aggressive assaults on civil rights protections during the Reagan administration,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement. “The White House should make all relevant documents available so that the Senate can make an informed decision.”The White House said no.Instead, it arranged for the midafternoon release of records from Roberts’ time at the Reagan Justice Department and said it would expedite the availability of certain documents from Roberts’ Reagan-era tenure in the White House counsel’s office.It invoked attorney-client privilege, though, in withholding legal writings by Roberts when he was principal deputy solicitor general under the first President Bush.White House press secretary Scott McClellan said a solicitor general must be able to rely on candid assessments from staff lawyers. “And you cannot have that if attorneys in the Office of the Solicitor General fear that that information might be disclosed,” McClellan said.He said the White House had not seen or reviewed the documents from Roberts’ tenure in the solicitor general’s office.”Now, I hope Senator Leahy is not trying to demand documents that the president has not even seen as part of their lines of attack against the president,” McClellan said.”That’s a big mistake,” Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said of the White House position. “There’s precedent for these kinds of documents being released in the past.”And why are they always looking for a fight?”—On the Net:Related documents are available at:

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