Wednesday, July 27, 2005

White House says won't hand over some Roberts papers


W.House says won't hand over some Roberts papers

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday it will refuse to hand over to the Senate some documents related to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' government legal work, a sign of a possible battle ahead with Senate Democrats.

Senate Democrats, who have demanded access to relevant information as the confirmation process gets under way, expressed disappointment and said the documents being held back could contain information necessary to evaluate Roberts.

"A blanket statement that entire groups of documents are off limits is both premature and ill advised," said a letter to Bush from eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration would make public 62,000 to 65,000 pages of documents concerning Roberts' work during the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

But he said the Justice Department would withhold internal memos generated from 1989 to 1993, during Roberts' work as deputy solicitor general during the presidency of George Bush, father of the current president and a fellow Republican.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he has "serious concerns" about the release of these kinds of documents.

"We're talking about the lawyers for the United States of America and it's very, very important that the lawyers be comfortable being very candid and open about their views on very sensitive issues affecting the United States," Gonzales said on the PBS program "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

As a debate over documents raged on, Roberts spent a fifth day visiting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, after a meeting with Roberts, said: "I'd like to be able to vote for him. My test is he an ideologue. He said to me, 'I am not an ideologue."'

Schumer said he is not yet ready to pronounce judgment on Roberts, who he vows to question closely on a host of issues during his confirmation hearing to help determine if he is within the mainstream of legal thinking.

As deputy solicitor general, Roberts wrote a legal brief on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing a woman's right to abortion, in which he said "we continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the White House had decided to hold back some documents and that Ed Gillespie, President Bush's point man on the nomination, informed him of it on Monday.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings, said he hoped the White House move was not intended to hinder the Senate's consideration of Roberts' nomination.

"There will be additional documents we ask for," he said.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy said in his 42 years on the Judiciary committee, "we have received many internal Justice Department documents as least at sensitive as these, even for confirmation proceedings that don't come close to the importance of a Supreme Court appointment."

Specter said it was premature to talk about documents but noted, "I'd have to be an ostrich not to be concerned."


McClellan accused Democrats of demanding documents as part of a line of attack prepared even before Roberts' nomination.

The White House cited an agreement in 2002 by seven former solicitor generals in declaring the internal memos protected by attorney-client privilege. The solicitor general argues cases on behalf of the U.S. government before the Supreme Court.

Releasing the documents, McClellan said, "would have a chilling effect on the ability of the solicitor generals to receive candid, honest, and thorough advice from their attorneys during the decision-making process."

He said he did not know how many documents might be in question.

Partisan bickering also broke out over the timing of the confirmation hearings.

Specter said he and Leahy, despite numerous talks, have yet to agree on when to start. Some Democrats favor mid-September; some Republicans are pushing to have committee members end their summer recess early and start in late August.

Specter, who has scheduling power as chairman, said he wants the full Senate to vote on Roberts no later than Sept. 29, so he could be seated before the Supreme Court begins its new term on Oct. 3.

McClellan said all documents from Roberts' 1981-1982 tenure as special assistant to the attorney general during the Reagan administration would be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

They were also being made available to the media in a special reading room outside Washington later on Tuesday.

The administration also agreed to work with the Reagan presidential library in California to release documents relating to Roberts' work in the White House counsel's office from 1982 to 1986.

Roberts, a federal appeals court judge for the past two years, has received a generally upbeat reception on Capitol Hill since being nominated last Tuesday to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro)