Democrats Press for Roberts' Reagan-Era Papers

As Supreme Court nominee John Roberts continues his courtesy calls on members of the Senate, Democrats continue to insist that the White House release documents involving Roberts when he was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. Democrats refuse to commit to a date certain for a final vote on the nomination.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's been more than a week since President Bush nominated Judge John Roberts to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee still hasn't scheduled any confirmation hearings, nor has the Bush administration revealed how much of Judge Roberts' written work will be made available. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

As a Republican and as chairman of the committee that will scrutinize John Roberts in public hearings, Arlen Specter has been under considerable pressure from fellow party members to get a commitment from Democrats to vote on Roberts' nomination by the end of September. President Bush, after all, has said repeatedly he wants Roberts confirmed when the Supreme Court begins its new term October 3rd. At a Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, Specter said he's had intense negotiations with Patrick Leahy, the panel's top Democrat.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): I talked to Senator Leahy yesterday repeatedly and posed the question: Is it realistic to get a commitment that we will vote on Judge Roberts by September 29th? Absent that commitment, it seems to me that we have to start in August, on August 29th.

WELNA: But Specter's threat to hold Roberts' confirmation hearing a week before Senators are due back from their August recess failed to produce any promises from Leahy.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I'm convinced that today, the record we have before us that there will be a vote by the end of September. The irony is the vote will probably be the exact same day whether we hold a hearing in August or whether we hold a hearing in September.

WELNA: And so it's still not clear when the Roberts hearings will start. By refusing to commit to a vote on a date certain for Roberts, Democrats appear determined to keep open their options, both to prolong the confirmation process if new information arises or to possibly filibuster the nomination if they don't get the answers or documentation they feel they need.

Speaking at the National Press Club yesterday, Democratic Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer of New York said he would like to vote for Roberts, but first he has to be convinced the man's not an ideologue. Schumer chided the White House for ruling off-limits the internal memos Roberts worked on as a political appointee in the first Bush administration working for then Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): If we don't get the documents, we hope they'll reconsider, but seems likely that's strike one. If we don't get direct answers to questions, that's strike two. Let's not tempt fate and risk a strike three by creating an artificial, unnecessary deadline for concluding the hearing.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Roberts continued to meet with senators from both parties on Capitol Hill. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who supports women's right to abortion, said after meeting with Roberts she was satisfied he would uphold the Roe vs. Wade court ruling that recognized that right. But Snowe said she, too, needed to know much more about Roberts before committing to support him.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): So often the Supreme Court now influences the politics, the decisions and judges and everything's crafted in the conserved liberal mode that perhaps it is important to get more of his views on how he will approach these decisions. Obviously, he can't answer the specifics of a case, but he can tell you how he will approach it and what has influenced his life.

WELNA: Snowe said she believed some accommodation could be worked out in the dispute over access to Roberts' writings while deputy solicitor general. But White House spokesman Scott McLellan yesterday told reporters that because of the attorney-client privilege not even White House officials have looked at those documents.

Mr. SCOTT McLELLAN (White House Spokesman): No one has seen or reviewed that information from our standpoint. And I said, `Why?' `Because It would be inappropriate to do so.' Obviously, there are people that it may be appropriate for them to see that information. I don't know. You'd have to ask the Justice Department.

WELNA: And the Justice Department is not saying who, if anyone, has seen those documents. New York Democrat Schumer had this warning yesterday.

Sen. SCHUMER: If the administration stymies us at every turn, when all we're trying to do is fulfill our constitutional duty to vet this nominee, there are going to be problems.

WELNA: Schumer did not elaborate on just what those problems might be.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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