Emerging Portrait Of Ideological Infighter Affirms Need For Full Disclosure Of Roberts’ Records

Neas: ‘What Americans don’t know could definitely hurt us’

Just over a week after President Bush nominated John Roberts to fill the vacancy of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the carefully constructed image of Roberts as a mainstream, non-ideological lawyer is giving way, said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. News reports based on records from Roberts’ days in the Reagan White House and Justice Department are beginning to paint a portrait of an ideological infighter who pushed hard to move policy and the law even further to the right than some of his ultraconservative superiors.

“With only a fraction of the relevant records having been released and reviewed, we are already learning important information about John Roberts’ approach to our constitutional rights and safeguards,” said Neas. “The White House should make Roberts’ full record available to senators rather than hiding important documents from them. The new disclosures about Roberts’ record make it clear that what Americans don’t know could definitely hurt us.”

Neas, who served as Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights from 1981 to 1995, released the following statement:

From 1981 to 1993, the Reagan and first Bush administrations did everything possible to turn back the clock on civil rights laws and remedies. If successful, the Reagan-Bush policies would have permitted the federal funding of discrimination against women, minorities, people with disabilities, and older Americans. They would have allowed tax-exempt status to institutions that discriminate on the basis of race. They tried to block a strong and effective Voting Rights Act extension, to gut affirmative action, to block the South Africa sanctions law, to undermine the nation’s equal employment opportunity laws, to eliminate a constitutional right to privacy, and to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over cases pertaining to abortion, school prayer, and school desegregation remedies.

With every passing day and every new revelation about John Roberts, it is becoming more apparent that he was one of the key lieutenants in the continuous right-wing assaults on well-established civil rights laws and remedies. Rather than being the lawyer-advocate above the political fray, the image promoted by the public relations apparatus of the White House and its allies, it increasingly appears that Roberts was a right-wing partisan at the epicenter of major controversial civil rights battles during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

The good news is that huge bipartisan majorities in Congress repeatedly repudiated the Reagan-Bush civil rights agenda, strengthened all the major civil rights laws, overturned a dozen harmful Supreme Court decisions, saved affirmative action, and defeated the Robert Bork nomination.

In 1985, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds to be associate attorney general. The committee found that, among other things, Reynolds, as assistant attorney general for civil rights, repeatedly acted in defiance of civil rights laws as passed by Congress and interpreted by the Supreme Court. It appears from recent press accounts that John Roberts worked with Reynolds in his attempts to undermine two decades of bipartisan civil rights enforcement policies.

Certainly the emerging public record underscores the need for the White House to release all relevant information regarding the record of John Roberts’ years as a political appointee in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Before deciding whether to give him a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court, and a powerful voice in the future of our constitutional and legal protections, the Senate has a constitutional duty to ascertain exactly what John Roberts was doing from 1981-1986 and 1989-1993. Roberts himself has the responsibility to discuss his record and judicial philosophy openly and fully during his confirmation hearing. The American people have a right to know whether they can count on him to uphold their rights and freedoms. It’s up to him to make the case.

People For the American Way continues to ask its 750,000 members and activists to contact their senators and urge them not to make any commitments until after the confirmation hearings are over. We want a fair and thorough confirmation process that will find out where John Roberts stands on questions that affect our constitutional rights and freedoms.

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