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Roberts' Papers Draw Crowd at Reagan Library

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Roberts' Papers Draw Crowd at Reagan Library


Roberts' Papers Draw Crowd at Reagan Library

Roberts' Papers Draw Crowd at Reagan Library

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Nearly 3,000 miles from Capitol Hill, political activists, journalists and curious onlookers seek to fill in blanks on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. They've converged on the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., to pore over thousands of pages of Roberts' legal writings housed at the library.


The interest in Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is bringing attention to the records of his former boss. Roberts worked in the Reagan administration, so now there's a lot of activity at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Thousands of Roberts' past writings are stored there. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, those papers are drawing a crowd.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

History in the making or a preservationist's worst nightmare? For Mike Duggan, head archivist at the Ronald Reagan Library, the crowd camped out in his research room is a bit of both.

Mr. MIKE DUGGAN (Ronald Reagan Library): It's fun to have people come in and look now. At the same time, there's a part in the back of your head going, `Are they taking care of the records? Are they not folding things?' You know, you've got that kind of thing going on in your head.

KAHN: On most days, Duggan has only three or four people to watch over. These days, all of the tables are filled. Some are journalists; others sitting next to stacks of boxes labeled `Roberts' are reluctant to even whisper who they work for.

Unidentified Man: (Whispering) Well, it's for--on behalf of a client. I can't go into that actually. It's like an attorney-client privilege. Sorry.

KAHN: Anyone can come view the library's extensive files. Archivist Duggan says there are nearly 7,000 pages of records on Roberts that are currently open to the public. The Supreme Court nominee spent nearly four years in the Reagan White House as an assistant counsel, but there's only one piece of videotape showing him with President Reagan. Roberts' boss, Fred Fielding, had just resigned and asked Reagan to meet his staff.

(Soundbite of conversation)

President RONALD REAGAN: Well, I will. ...(Unintelligible) have a camera here first.

Mr. FRED FIELDING: Oh, I'd love that. Yes, sir.

KAHN: In the four-minute clip, Reagan poses for photos with each of the staff...

(Soundbite of conversation)

Unidentified Man #2: This is John Roberts, sir.

Mr. JOHN ROBERTS: Good to see you.

KAHN: ...including a grinning 20-something Roberts with a bushy '80s haircut. While there may not be much in the audio library, there are nearly 50,000 pages of records on Roberts that have never been seen by the public.

Mr. DUGGAN: You know, this is the elevator that takes you down into the lower portions of the building.

KAHN: In the library's basement is where all those documents are stored, but only federal employees can go near the files. Archivist Duggan says as his staff processes the boxes of papers, a fuller portrait of Roberts is emerging.

Mr. DUGGAN: You can see the work ethic of the man, you know, in terms of the quality of the memos he was writing and, you know, the things he was dealing with.

KAHN: Those memos are exactly what Democrats and liberal political groups want to see. Roberts has a short list of judicial rulings. And Elliot Mincberg of the People For the American Way says that's why it's important to review all of Roberts' policy decisions. Several lawyers from Mincberg's group have been at the Reagan Library for the past two weeks.

Mr. ELLIOT MINCBERG (People For the American Way): From the documents we've seen already, there are plenty of examples where Roberts is giving his own views of legal and policy issues and advocating them, sometimes losing out to others in the administration.

KAHN: Mincberg says he appreciates the professional staff at the library but accuses the White House of dragging out the release of the lion's share of Roberts' records. The White House gets to review all files before they're made public. Meanwhile, two interns are preparing hundreds of green file folders for the barrage of Roberts' records that will need to be sorted over the next few weeks. Rebecca Ordinberg(ph), a vacationing college student, says she can't wait to read a few.

Ms. REBECCA ORDINBERG (College Student): I saw one--there was one over here--Where is it?--on school prayer. I'd be curious to what he thinks on school prayer.

KAHN: And she's not the only one who's curious. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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