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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Senate Democrats Pushing for Roberts's Legal Memos - New York Times

Senate Democrats Pushing for Roberts's Legal Memos - New York TimesSeptember 8, 2005
Senate Democrats Pushing for Roberts's Legal Memos

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 - Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee renewed their push on Wednesday for access to legal memorandums written by Judge John G. Roberts Jr., sending a pointed letter of complaint to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who controls the records and who is himself a potential Supreme Court candidate.

The letter on Judge Roberts, who has been nominated to be chief justice, came as conservatives stepped up their campaign against a possible Gonzales nomination to fill the seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Signed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the judiciary panel, and the seven other committee Democrats, the letter said, "We are increasingly concerned about the inference raised by your continued refusal even to speak with us about accommodating our reasonable request for documents which are entirely within your control."

The Democrats said the documents were "all the more important to our performing a fair and complete evaluation of Judge Roberts" now that President Bush has nominated him to be the next chief justice after the death of William H. Rehnquist on Saturday.

The letter came as President Bush is contemplating how to fill the O'Connor vacancy. He had originally nominated Judge Roberts to succeed Justice O'Connor, but announced on Monday that he had selected Judge Roberts to succeed the late chief justice.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush said the field to replace Justice O'Connor was "wide open," but also made a pointed reference to Mr. Gonzales, his old friend from Texas, as a possible contender for the O'Connor seat. The remark has created a political tizzy among conservatives, who are not convinced that Mr. Gonzales is sufficiently opposed to abortion.

On Wednesday, Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation, said that at his weekly lunch meeting of conservative organizers he told a visiting Bush administration official that he strongly urged against a Gonzales nomination.

"Please don't do this for your sake - not for mine - because it will destroy your coalition," Mr. Weyrich recounted in an interview. "It will absolutely destroy your base."

At the same time, conservatives are trying to use the Roberts nomination to put Democrats in a difficult spot. The Religious Freedom Action Coalition, a conservative organization, announced that a group of religious leaders, along with a Democratic New York State senator, Ruben Diaz, would publicly endorse Judge Roberts on Thursday outside the office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, and would urge Mrs. Clinton to vote to confirm him.

The death of the chief justice forced a delay in the confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts, a former Rehnquist clerk. With the hearings now set to begin on Monday, Judge Roberts is scheduled to undergo a final round of preparation on Thursday, after having been through 10 or so similar sessions last month.

The mock hearing, in which he will be questioned by administration officials and other people playing the roles of the senators on the Judiciary Committee, is expected to be his last and is intended in part to deal with questions he might get about the role of the chief justice, including inquiries about his administrative ability.

At a news conference Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said he intended to press Judge Roberts on his ability to generate consensus on the oft-divided court, which has issued a series of 5-to-4 opinions that Mr. Specter called "really inexplicable." Mr. Specter also said he would ask Judge Roberts about his views on televising the court proceedings, which the senator has long advocated.

But Mr. Specter, who has tried to play the role of neutral arbiter of the hearings, said he would not support the Democrats' request for legal memorandums relating to Judge Roberts's work on 16 cases in the four years he spent as principal deputy solicitor general under the first President Bush. The cases address what liberal advocacy groups say are some of the country's most significant legal issues, including civil rights, the right to privacy, the right to abortion and freedom of religion.

In one case, for instance, Judge Roberts signed a brief arguing that a Civil War-era law intended to block the activities of the Ku Klux Klan could not be used to bar protesters from abortion clinics. In another, he signed a brief saying that a girl who had been sexually abused by her teacher was not entitled to sue for monetary damages under Title IX, the 1972 sex discrimination law.

Democrats are hoping the documents include memorandums that could shed light on Judge Roberts's personal views on such topics. In their letter to Mr. Gonzales, they argued that Judge Roberts was serving not as a Civil Service lawyer, but as a "political appointee in a leadership position within the government."

And they say there is precedent for making such records public; when Justice Rehnquist was nominated as chief, for instance, similar records were released dating from his days as a Nixon administration lawyer.

The Bush White House has held firm to the argument that it can withhold the documents on the grounds that to release them would create a chilling effect on other lawyers in the Justice Department.

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting for this article.

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