Senate Democrats begin stalling tactic just like with Bolton
Hours after President Bush announced his nomination for the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats quickly pressed for the release of all material that would shed light on the high court nominee's views.
The White House is protecting attorney-client privilege in withholding legal writings by Roberts when he was principal deputy solicitor general under former President George H.W. Bush. 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.
"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, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. "The White House should make all relevant documents available so that the Senate can make an informed decision."
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, 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.
"The approach was to avoid giving specific responses to any direct questions on legal issues likely to come before the court, but demonstrating in the response a firm command of the subject area and awareness of the relevant precedents and arguments," Roberts wrote in the Sept. 17, 1981, memo.
Other memos from 1982 showed Roberts advising Smith to support Republican-led efforts in Congress to limit the federal judiciary's power to decide 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. Addressing criticism that judicial nominations weren't "ideologically committed to the president's policies," Roberts suggested something other than a "yes they are" answer.
"Rather, we should shift the debate and briefly touch on our judicial restraint themes," he wrote. "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." 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.