Senate Democrats on Friday renewed their push for documents from John Roberts’ service as deputy solicitor general, saying the material is critical to gauge the Supreme Court nominee’s position on civil rights.
In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked him to reconsider last week’s Justice Department refusal to release material on 16 cases Roberts handled from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.
The Democrats said the documents should not be protected under attorney-client privilege because they were prepared by the U.S. office of the solicitor general (OSG), which was “acting for the American people.” They offered to meet with Gonzales to try to reach an agreement.
“Of the various administration positions he held, his service as the ’political’ deputy in the OSG may well be the most relevant for evaluating the Supreme Court nomination,” the Judiciary Democrats wrote.
The Justice Department said Friday it had received the Democrats’ request.
“As seven former solicitors general have stated previously, the confidentiality that enables the solicitor general’s office to vigorously defend the United States’ interests should not be sacrificed as a part of the confirmation process,” spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.
Second Democrat leaning toward approval
Meanwhile, a second Senate Democrat says after meeting with Roberts that she is inclined to vote for putting him on the nine-member court to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
“I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard so far from him and those who know him and have been leaning towards supporting his confirmation,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson is the only other Democrat who has said he is leaning in favor of Roberts.
The Bush administration said it has worked to give the Senate thousands of documents from Roberts’ time at the White House counsel’s office under President Reagan and as an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.
But it has hedged on material from Roberts’ time in the solicitor general’s office, which supervises and conducts government litigation in the Supreme Court, citing the danger of setting precedent that would inhibit that office’s frank internal discussions of pending cases.
The 16 cases cover a wide range of issues, from abortion and affirmative action to school prayer and capital punishment.