News & Politics

Dems Begin Digging into Bush Court Nominee


Senators charged with vetting Bush nominee John Roberts for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court finally adjourned their tea party late this afternoon and began the investigation.

First, the Senate Judiciary Committee set a start date of September 6 for confirmation hearings. Then, the Democratic committee members lobbed their first shot. They wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, demanding an intriguing set of documents from Roberts’s days as a powerful lawyer for the Bush Sr. administration.

The letter reminds Gonzales that similar documents were requested and provided before the confirmation hearings of rejected Reagan nominee Robert Bork.

Roberts, having served only two years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, has a relatively sparse record of his judicial leanings. The senators are therefore seeking insight, via past memos and other internal documents, into his positions on key issues, from civil rights to women’s choice to due process.

The Dems provided reporters the following list summarizing the cases on which they want Roberts’s past papers. Of course, they are also obligated to satisfy the concerns of their constituents:

Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237 (1991)—A school desegregation case in which Roberts filed an amicus brief opposing efforts of African American families to pursue claims that their local schools would become re-segregated.

Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263 (1993)— Roberts filed an amicus brief and participated in oral argument requesting that the Court hold that the obstruction of family planning clinics by anti-abortion activists did not harm women because of their gender in violation of federal law.

Franklin v. Gwinnett County School District, 503 U.S. 60 (1992)—A decision rejecting Roberts’ arguments to limit relief under Title IX for students who suffer even the most severe gender harassment. If accepted, his arguments would also have undermined other important civil rights prohibiting discrimination with federally funded programs, including Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (prohibiting race and ethnic discrimination), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (prohibiting disability discrimination), and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975) all which contain language nearly identical to that in Title IX.

Freeman v. Pitts, , 503 U.S. 467 (1992)— Roberts filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that required a Georgia school district to make further efforts to fully de-segregate its public schools.

Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993)—The Solicitor General’s Office, where Roberts worked, filed a brief arguing that a Texas man could not seek relief in federal court based on his claim that new evidence showed he was actually innocent of the crime for which he had been sentenced to death.

Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992)—Involved the question of whether a prayer by clergy selected by the public school at a graduation ceremony violates the principle that the government should not favor a particular religion.

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992)—The Solicitor General’s office filed a brief arguing that the state had taken petitioner’s property within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment when it passed building regulations which had the result of forbidding petitioner from building a permanent structure on his property, and that the state therefore must compensate him. Roberts was not on the briefs.

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992)—An important environmental case in which the Solicitor General argued to deny a citizen standing to challenge environmental harm. Roberts was not on the briefs.

Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990)—Roberts argued as acting Solicitor General urging the Court to narrow citizens’ ability to challenge unlawful land use decisions as harmful to the environment. Roberts was on the brief and participated in oral argument.

Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 497 U.S. 547 (1990) —As acting Solicitor General, Roberts filed a brief contrary to the position taken by the FCC, in which he unsuccessfully attacked the FCC’s affirmative action program with regard applications for new broadcast licenses.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)—A landmark case holding that the constitutional right to privacy regarding reproductive decisions prevents the state from requiring women to notify their husbands before deciding to have an abortion. The Solicitor General’s office filed a brief in the case that urged the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roberts was not on the brief.

Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991)—A decision upholding the validity of an abortion “gag rule” regulation under the First Amendment, and did not directly involve Roe v. Wade. The Solicitor General’s brief in the case, which Roberts co-authored, not only argued to uphold the regulations, but also urged the Court to reverse Roe.

Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349 (1993)—The Solicitor General’s office filed an amicus brief arguing that the Saudi Arabia should be immune from suit by an American who claimed he was recruited to work for the kingdom and then imprisoned and tortured. Roberts was on the brief.

Suter v. Artist M, 503 U.S. 347 (1992)—In a case concerning when a citizen’s right to sue can be implied from a statute, the Solicitor General’s office filed an amicus urging the Court to interpret an Adoption Assistance statute narrowly so as to preclude abused children from suing the states for failing to take reasonable actions to ensure that foster children are reunified with their natural families where possible. Roberts was on the brief and participated in oral argument.

Voinovich v. Quilter, 507 U.S. 146 (1993)—A Voting Rights Act case in which the Solicitor General filed a brief opposing claims by minority voters in Ohio. Roberts co-authored the Solicitor General’s brief.

Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680 (1993)— A case in which the Solicitor General’s office urged the Court to severely curtail Miranda rights by ruling that federal courts may not entertain Miranda claims in habeas corpus petitions filed by state prisoners. Roberts was on the brief and participated in oral argument.

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