July 28, 2005

BLOGGERS AREN'T THE ONLY ONES BEING SPUN BY THE WHITE HOUSE:

Documents Show Roberts Influence In Reagan Era (R. Jeffrey Smith, Jo Becker and Amy Goldstein, July 27, 2005, Washington Post)

To a greater extent than the White House documents previously released, the more than 15,000 pages of Justice Department memos show Roberts speaking at times in his own voice. In memos to the attorney general or senior officials of the Justice Department, Roberts argued for restrictions on the rights of prisoners to litigate their grievances; depicted as "judicial activism" a lower court's order requiring a sign-language interpreter for a hearing-impaired public school student who had already been given a hearing aid and tutors; and argued for wider latitude for prosecutors and police to question suspects out of the presence of their attorneys.

In the rare instances revealed in the documents in which Roberts disagreed with his superiors on the proper legal course to take on major social issues of the day, he advocated a more conservative tack.

In one instance, he wrote a memo to the attorney general urging Smith to disregard the recommendation of William Bradford Reynolds, the head of the agency's civil rights division, that the administration should intervene on behalf of female inmates in a sex discrimination case involving job training for prisoners.

"I recommend that you do not approve intervention in this case," Roberts wrote. He said that such a step would be inconsistent with the administration's belief in judicial restraint and that, if equal treatment for male and female prisoners was required, "the end result in this time of state prison budgets may be no programs for anyone." Besides, he said, private plaintiffs were already bringing suit.

On June 15, 1982, Roberts faulted the Justice Department for the outcome in Plyler v. Doe , in which the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law that had allowed school districts to deny enrollment to children who had entered the country illegally.

Roberts argued that if the solicitor general's office had taken a position in the case supporting the state of Texas "and the values of judicial restraint," it could have "altered the outcome of the case."

"In sum, this is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have," Roberts wrote.

Much of Roberts's time at the Justice Department was taken up by the debate over GOP-sponsored bills in Congress that would have stripped the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over abortion, busing and school prayer cases. He wrote repeatedly in opposition to the view, advanced by then-Assistant Attorney General Theodore B. Olson, that the bills were unconstitutional. He scrawled "NO!" in the margins of an April 12, 1982, note Olson sent to Smith. In the memo, Olson observed that opposing the bills would "be perceived as a courageous and highly principled position, especially in the press."

Roberts drew a bracket around the paragraph, underlined the words "especially in the press," and wrote in the margin: "Real courage would be to read the Constitution as it should be read and not kowtow to the Tribes, Lewises and Brinks!"

The three appear to be to Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis and then-American Bar Association President David R. Brink, who opposed the bills.

Roberts added skeptical margin notes again when Olson wrote that the bills were unnecessary because the court now had more Republican-appointed members than it had in the 1960s, and was moving to the right as a result.

Roberts underlined the name of one of the Republican appointees Olson listed, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade , and drew an arrow connecting it to the word "abortion."

Later, then-counselor to the attorney general Kenneth W. Starr asked Roberts to prepare a memo that "marshals arguments in favor of Congress' power to control" the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. Roberts noted as a result that his memo "was prepared from a standpoint of advocacy of congressional power . . . [and] does not purport to be an objective review of the issue."

Roberts approvingly cited comments by "Professor Scalia" -- then-University of Chicago law professor Antonin Scalia -- at a conference on the bills. Scalia "recognized that non-uniformity in the interpretation of federal law could be criticized as 'sloppy,' but asked: compared to what? Given the choice between non-uniformity and the uniform imposition of the judicial excesses embodied in Roe v. Wade, Scalia was prepared to choose the former alternative."

Roberts also took issue with the view that bills restricting the court's jurisdiction would be unconstitutional because they interfere with "fundamental rights." "None of the pending bills concerning jurisdiction in abortion or school prayer cases directly burden the exercise of any fundamental rights," he wrote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 28, 2005 8:47 AM
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