Any More Surprises From Judge Roberts?

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts didn’t disclose that he once lobbied for cosmetics makers, or mention that he’d once given a TV interview about justices’ independence. And questions about his connections with the conservative Federalist Society have lingered for weeks.

Midway between his nomination and his confirmation hearing, a big issue is whether more surprises await officials fighting over access to documents in his career.

Senate Democrats are accusing the White House of delaying the release of Roberts’ paperwork to ensure Republicans aren’t blindsided by information that could hurt his confirmation. “The time for such partisan review of documents was before the nomination of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

But Republicans say the Roberts questions so far have been minor, and they contend his opponents will reach to any length to find a way to criticize President Bush’s nominee. “I’m convinced that even if there’s not anything, there are groups out there who are going to try to make this nomination controversial even when it shouldn’t be,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will question Roberts early next month.

Bush nominated Roberts last month to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who often provided the decisive swing vote in decisions in which the court’s liberal and conservatives wings were split.

Since then, Roberts has been met with positive reviews from many senators who will vote on his confirmation. The White House and Senate Republicans hope that vote comes before the Supreme Court begins its new term on Oct. 3.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said he was impressed by Roberts after meeting with him Wednesday. “I’m encouraged by the judge’s comments,” said Nelson, who questioned him on identity theft and the recent Supreme Court ruling expanding the power of eminent domain.

But a trickle of omissions from Roberts’ public resume have some partisans smelling blood and demanding more documents. Roberts, a U.S. appeals court judge, has acknowledged that he should have told senators before he was confirmed for that job that he worked as a lobbyist for the cosmetics industry in 2001.

He said in a Senate questionnaire that he had “no recollection” of being a member of the Federalist Society. But he was on one of the group’s panels in 1993, was listed in a 1997 brochure as a member of the steering committee of the society’s Washington chapter, and gave a luncheon speech to the legal group in 2003.

Although the Senate asked Roberts to submit all public interviews he’s participated in, the Judiciary Committee was unaware of a 2000 interview with a Texas TV station until segments of it were rebroadcast last Sunday on ABC. In the interview, Roberts said justices “often go their own way” and “chart a different course” from the ones that the presidents who appointed them wanted.

The White House says Roberts has been candid in his written responses to Senate questions.

“John Roberts never joined” the Federalist Society, Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Wednesday. “He has spoken on panels sponsored by the Federalist Society, he was on a steering committee, but not a member.”

Regarding the ABC interview, Schmidt noted that in Roberts’ recent questionnaire for the Supreme Court job the nominee said: “I have also occasionally been asked by media representatives to comment on particular legal developments. I have not maintained a file or listing of such requests or whether they resulted in any media report.”

Democrats are citing the developments as reasons they should have access to internal memos from Roberts’ tenure as a deputy solicitor general, when he represented the White House at the Supreme Court during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

Last week the Justice Department said it would not give the Senate internal records from 16 cases in which Roberts dealt with such issues as abortion, affirmative action, school prayer and capital punishment.

“Given the way the information has been trickling out and given the serious questions that the information has raised each time something trickles out, this is all the more reason to come clean,” said Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., on Wednesday backed the White House’s decision to keep the solicitor general documents closed. But Specter said other Roberts paperwork should be sent to the Senate as fast as possible to avoid accusations that senators didn’t have enough time to review them before the Sept. 6 start of his confirmation hearings.

“It is imperative that the White House provide expeditiously those documents it intends to release,” Specter said in a letter to the White House.

Another volume of documents is expected to be released Thursday by the National Archives. The White House also said it is working on getting to the Senate before Aug. 22 additional documents from Roberts’ time at the White House counsel’s office under President Reagan and as an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.

Some could come as early as next week, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Meanwhile, Roberts picked up the endorsement of the National Association of Manufacturers on Wednesday. “It certainly is, in 2005, time for business to get off the sidelines, so we urge today the Senate confirmation of Judge Roberts,” said John Engler, the group’s president.


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© 2005 The Associated Press