Democrats press for files on Roberts

Administration resists releasing documents from solicitor general's office

September 08, 2005|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats renewed their request to see 16 files of documents on John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee for chief justice of the United States, arguing yesterday that the Reagan administration released similar documents when it nominated William H. Rehnquist to that position in 1986.

Current administration officials countered that the two situations were dissimilar, that more than 60,000 pages of documents have been released and that the Democrats' request was unreasonable.

Ever since Bush nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court - first as a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, now as Rehnquist's successor - the White House has said that documents written by Roberts during the administration of George H.W. Bush are off-limits to senators.

In their letter, Democrats argued that the documents - from Roberts' tenure as the principal deputy in the Office of the Solicitor General, which handles the government's litigation before the Supreme Court - are even more crucial to the confirmation process now that he is under consideration to lead the court.

"The documents we have requested from Judge Roberts' time in the most senior executive branch position he held are of unparalleled relevance to our evaluation of his fitness for the position to which the president has now decided to nominate him, that of chief justice of the United States," the Judiciary Committee's eight Democrats wrote.

Democrats believe the documents will shed light on whether Roberts was an ideological architect of the first Bush administration's policies in such controversial areas as affirmative action and abortion. They say that if he proves to be too rigid in his beliefs, that would disqualify him to serve on the Supreme Court.

White House officials have provided more than 60,000 pages of documents from Roberts' years as an associate White House counsel in the Reagan administration. But they have insisted that releasing documents from his time in the Office of the Solicitor General would have a "chilling effect" on the department.

"The documents from the Office of the Solicitor General are privileged," said Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman. "Just as seven former solicitors general from both Democratic and Republican administrations have stated, the confidentiality of these documents allows the solicitor general's office to defend and represent the people of the United States and can't be sacrificed as part of the confirmation process."

The Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who will preside over the confirmation hearings for Roberts, endorsed the administration's position.

Democrats expressed dismay that administration officials have declined to meet with them to discuss ways of resolving the impasse, such as redacting the names of staff attorneys. They argued that when Reagan nominated Rehnquist as chief justice, his administration released about two dozen documents related to Rehnquist's service as an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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