Abortion Rights Advocates Demand Roberts Documents

Abortion-rights groups mostly opposed to conservative Supreme Court nominee John Roberts on Tuesday urged the White House to release documents, including a legal brief in which he argued civil rights laws do not protect women denied access to abortions by violent protests.

The organizations joined the call by Senate Democrats to turn over documents from Roberts’ work as deputy solicitor general under former President George H.W. Bush. The U.S. Justice Department has rejected the request, citing attorney-client privilege.

The groups, which largely oppose Roberts because of his intervention in the abortion clinic case, also said senators must press Roberts on the brief he co-authored that contended that harassment aimed at women seeking abortion services did not constitute discrimination.

“It’s important to note that the government was not required to enter this case. Instead, John Roberts voluntarily chose to join in and take the side of a convicted bomber and other violent anti-choice extremists,” Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said at a news conference.

In two appearances before the justices, Roberts helped tip a divided U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the use of a civil rights statute to prevent abortion foes from blocking clinics, handing pro-choice advocates a major setback.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Roberts, a federal appeals judge tapped by President Bush to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, when Congress returns next month from its summer recess.

Democrats generally have held their fire on Roberts, focusing more on their fight with the White House over documents from Roberts’ work as a deputy solicitor general, which they said would shed light on his views on abortion and other controversial issues.

The Bush administration released many documents from Roberts’ tenure already in the public domain, but it said documents on internal deliberations should be kept private.

The pro-choice organizations said the documents are essential to help determine whether Roberts was following government policy in preparing the brief in the abortion clinic case or whether it reflected his own beliefs.

“Was Roberts the chief protagonist for the mistaken direction in combating violence that had to be reversed by the FACE Act and subsequent court cases?” asked Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, referring to a 1994 law that made it illegal to use force, threat of force or physical obstruction to prevent someone from providing or receiving abortions.

NARAL Pro-Choice America on Monday launched a nationwide television ad campaign focusing on Roberts’ work on the abortion clinic court case.

Nancy Keenan, NARAL’s president, said while she is sure Roberts “finds bombings and murder abhorrent … his ideological view of the law compelled him to go out of his way” to argue against extending federal protections in the case.