Sen. Patrick Leahy says Supreme Court nominee John Roberts holds "radical" views and has been an "eager, aggressive advocate" for policies of the far right.
While stopping short of announcing his opposition to the appointment, the Vermont Democrat's written statement Tuesday was by far the most critical he has made since President Bush nominated Roberts.
Despite Leahy's harsh words, Roberts received a "well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association on Wednesday, clearing another hurdle in his path to the nation's highest court.
A 15-member ABA committee handled the work, including a review of opinions and legal briefs, and voted that Roberts was well qualified to be a justice. ABA spokeswoman Nancy Slonim said the vote was unanimous.
Leahy, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary, fired his broadside one day after the release of 5,000 pages of Reagan-era records. Leahy said Roberts' views were "among the most radical being offered by a cadre intent on reversing decades of policies on civil rights, voting rights, women's rights, privacy and access to justice."
White House spokesman Steve Schmidt said Leahy's remarks were part of a Democratic strategy — predating Roberts' nomination — of trying to depict Bush's nominees as ideologically extreme.
"The ease with which Sen. Leahy distorts Judge Roberts' record is troubling and may indicate that the Democrats are not yet done trying to make that argument, although it has already been discredited," Schmidt said.
Leahy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., both expressed concern about documents that were not released Monday, asking for investigations into a few that were reported missing.
Nearly 500 were kept private in their entirety on grounds of national security or privacy, according to Allen Weinstein, head of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Additionally, a folder of material relating to affirmative action was misplaced by library officials after being reviewed by administration officials, Weinstein wrote. He said he believed the material had been reconstructed without the originals and made public.
Ralph Neas, president of People For The American Way, declined to comment on his own organization's plans Tuesday, but said a "significant number of progressive organizations will soon be coming out against the Roberts nomination."
Neas prodded Senate Democrats in public and private to outline the stakes involved in Roberts' appointment.
In a private meeting with Senate Democratic aides, Neas said angrily that the public was being left with the impression that Roberts' confirmation proceedings were a mere formality, according to several participants.
In material released Monday, Roberts emerged as an attorney serving in the Reagan White House who held views generally in line with those of other conservatives. He was sympathetic to prayer in public schools, dismissive of "comparable worth," referred to the "tragedy of abortion" and took a swipe at the Supreme Court for being too willing to hear multiple appeals from death row inmates.
"Those papers that we have paint a picture of John Roberts as an eager and aggressive advocate of policies that are deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right wing of his party, then and now," Leahy said in his statement.
He also pressed the Democrats' prior demand for records from Roberts' time as principal deputy solicitor general during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The White House has refused to make those papers available, and Leahy wrote that in doing so, "they raise the inference that there is much to hide."