Thursday, September 01, 2005

Roberts Poked at Congress As Reagan Lawyer

ABC News
Roberts Poked at Congress As Reagan Lawyer
Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts Took Shots at Congress While a Reagan Administration Lawyer
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

Sep. 1, 2005 - Supreme Court nominee John Roberts took shots at Congress while a Reagan administration lawyer, saying in documents released Wednesday that a congressman killed in connection with cult leader Jim Jones' massacre could be viewed as a "publicity hound" and that what Congress does best is "nothing."

Those two documents were among 420 Roberts papers released by the National Archives that originally had been withheld from Congress for privacy and security reasons. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library re-reviewed the papers and released them a week before Roberts' confirmation hearing after blacking out much material for privacy and national security reasons.

Two of the released documents show Roberts, then an assistant to White House counsel Fred Fielding, taking the then-Democratic Congress to task.

Congress voted to give California Rep. Leo Ryan, a Democrat, a Congressional Gold Medal after he was killed near the Jonestown commune in Guyana in 1978. Ryan had gone down to Guyana to investigate whether cult leader Jones was holding people against their will.

Some cult members chose to leave with Ryan but the party was ambushed; Ryan and four others were killed.

Jones ordered a mass suicide, and more than 900 members of the People's Temple cult committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced punch while others were shot by guards loyal to Jones.

Roberts told Fielding in a Nov. 18, 1983, memo he was not certain he would have voted to give Ryan a congressional medal.

"The distinction of his service in the House is certainly subject to debate, and his actions leading to his murder can be viewed as those of a publicity hound," Roberts said.

Roberts, however, said he saw no legal objections to Reagan signing off on legislation for the medal.

In an Oct. 11, 1983, letter to U.S. Appeals Judge Henry Friendly of New York, Roberts complained about Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger's plan to set up a new appeals-level court to cut down on the Supreme Court's workload.

The White House counsel's office was fighting against it, Roberts wrote, but the chief justice, congressional leaders and the Justice Department were all for the idea.

"Our only hope is that Congress will continue to do what is does best nothing," said Roberts, who used to be one of Friendly's clerks.

Those statements could come back to haunt Roberts on Tuesday, when he faces the Senate Judiciary Committee in his attempt to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. He will be introduced by Indiana Sens. Richard Lugar, a Republican, and Evan Bayh, a Democrat, as well as Virginia GOP Sen. John Warner.

"Of course, it's a matter of courtesy," Bayh said at a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina. "Like many of my colleagues, I'm interested in what he has to say, and we won't know that until he's asked and answers the questions."

Warner introduced Roberts at his successful appeals courts hearing, while the nominee spent his childhood in Indiana. A Bayh spokesman said that his introduction of Roberts doesn't mean the Democrat's going to vote for him.

"He's following a long-standing tradition of senators introducing nominees from their home state," spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said. Bayh has not decided how he'll vote, Pfeiffer said.

Democrats say they need more Roberts documents to judge his candidacy to the Supreme Court. The Senate's Democratic leadership on Wednesday told the White House that not releasing key Roberts documents was "a failure to respect the role of Congress in our constitutional system."

Archives officials announced on Tuesday they had found a "large volume" of unreviewed and unreleased Roberts documents. At least one file of Roberts documents on affirmative action has gone missing, and the White House is refusing to let Democrats see Roberts' documents from his time in the solicitor general's office during the George H.W. Bush administration.

"They should be made available to senators as they decide whether Judge Roberts deserves confirmation," said a letter signed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Charles Schumer of New York.

Several groups announced their opposition to Roberts on Wednesday, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Partnership for Women & Families, and the National Womens Law Center. Groups announcing their support of Roberts included the National Black Republican Association.

Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.