Groups Push for Release of Roberts Documents

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Several organizations are continuing to push for release of documents on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts that the White House is withholding. The civil rights, abortion rights and environmental groups say memos written by Roberts while he was deputy solicitor general are important to understanding his views.


Public interest groups are calling on the White House to release more records related to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. The documents have to do with his tenure as deputy solicitor general for the first President Bush. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the current administration for all records from 16 cases that Roberts supervised or was involved in and the White House has refused. NPR's Nina Totenberg reports.


None of the groups appearing at the press conference has yet announced formal opposition to the Roberts' nomination, and all studiously avoided committing themselves again today. But was obvious that formal opposition is just a question of time. The focus of today's press conference was the attempt to obtain documents from Roberts' four-year tenure, from 1989 to '93, as the so-called political deputy solicitor general. The political deputy is distinct from the career deputy, a point made today by the head of the liberal Alliance for Justice, Nan Aron.

Ms. NAN ARON (Alliance for Justice): The politically appointed deputy, like the solicitor general himself, is positioned precisely at the influential intersection of law and politics.

TOTENBERG: Judy Appelbaum of the National Women's Law Center quoted Roberts' own words in explaining why she thinks access to his memos as deputy solicitor general is crucial.

Ms. JUDY APPELBAUM (National Women's Law Center): In a May 5th, 1993, op-ed in The Wall Street Journal he said that who the solicitor general decides to support, which cases, which side, can play a significant role in shaping what the Supreme Court does.

TOTENBERG: And, she said, these memos are not the work of some junior White House aide, as were the documents that have already been released, but the work of a senior policy-maker. Roberts, she noted for example, presided over the Bush administration's decision to argue that public school students are not entitled to damages when a school ignores sexual harassment complaints.

Ms. APPELBAUM: The Supreme Court in that case emphatically and unanimously disagreed, but had the John Roberts' position prevailed, there would be no remedy at all for victims of sexual harassment like this girl.

TOTENBERG: And David Bookbinder of the Sierra Club said it is important to obtain internal documents to see how Roberts resolved conflicts among various agencies, for example, in a key property rights case.

Mr. DAVID BOOKBINDER (Sierra Club): A huge dogfight ensued between the agencies as to which side, indeed, the United States should take in the Supreme Court on this case. And at the center of that and deciding whose views would prevail and why was John Roberts. We do not know how John Roberts felt about this constitutional issue. It should be revealed by the documents in those files.

TOTENBERG: Bookbinder derided the White House refusal to release the memos as baloney. The administration, however, has in the past at least been backed by former solicitors general, both Democratic as well as Republican, in its claim of executive privilege to protect the confidentiality of internal deliberations in the office of the solicitor general. But Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way said the Bush administration is taking a unique position.

Mr. ELLIOT MINCBERG (People for the American Way): This has never happened before that documents have been requested--internal government documents for a nominee--and the administration has stiff-armed and said we won't even talk to you about doing that.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, Mincberg observed that when William Rehnquist was nominated to be chief justice, the Reagan administration delegated none other than John Bolton of current UN fame to negotiate a compromise on Rehnquist's internal memoranda as assistant attorney general. That compromise, however, was brokered in large part because Republican Arlen Specter insisted on it, and Specter, now chairman of the committee, is currently backing the administration's refusal to produce any of the Roberts memos. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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