Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Gonzales balks at release of Roberts documents


Gonzales balks at release of Roberts documents

By Deborah Charles

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Monday he would have "very serious concerns" about sharing internal documents requested by Senate Democrats in the debate over John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court.

In an interview with Reuters, Gonzales also said the Justice Department does not routinely respond to such requests unless they come from the full Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin confirmation hearings on Roberts on Sept. 6.

"There's been no formal request by the committee. We normally respond to a formal request by the committee and not by one senator or a group of senators," Gonzales said in the interview as he headed to New Orleans to give a speech.

The documents in question, requested Friday by eight Democrats on the panel in a letter to Gonzales, related to 16 cases Roberts was involved in while deputy solicitor general in the early 1990s in the first Bush administration.

They touch on a host of divisive issues including school desegregation, the death penalty, civil rights and a case in which Roberts echoed the administration position that the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

"The eight Democratic senators view it as an official request," a spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the panel's top Democrat, said in response to Gonzales' comments.

The spokeswoman said committee Democrats had invited Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, to sign on to the letter, but he declined.

President Bush nominated Roberts, a 50-year-old conservative, to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In an interview with Texas newspapers, Bush said he did not ask Roberts about Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Bush said he did not want to put Roberts in the position of predetermining a potential case or having to one day recuse himself, The Dallas Morning News reported.

"I said there's no litmus test, and I meant it," Bush said.

The White House has declared the documents the Democrats want off-limits, but Democratic lawmakers said the committee would need them to properly scrutinize Roberts, who has spent the past two years as a federal appeals court judge.

Gonzales also cited a 2002 letter signed by seven former solicitor generals who said "the sharing of this kind of information would be detrimental to the operation of the office of the solicitor general."

"I would have very serious concerns about the sharing of these kinds of documents because I do believe that they would hurt the operation of the solicitor general's office and would weaken the effectiveness of that office," Gonzales said.

Senate Democrats argue that there is plenty of precedent of sensitive materials from other Supreme Court nominees being turned over to the committee.

No Senate Democrat has announced plans to oppose Roberts, but virtually all say they will withhold final judgment until the confirmation hearings.

At the White House on Monday, spokesman Scott McClellan said Roberts would continue paying courtesy calls to senators and had already met with 43, including 23 Democrats and all 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

McClellan also said the White House was pleased with Friday's agreement with Democrats that set the start of the hearings and "will enable the committee and the Senate to move forward in a timely manner to have an up-or-down vote on Judge Roberts by the end of September." (Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Adam Entous)