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Roberts Helped Pitch Reagan Initiatives
There was no need for the draft to talk about the government's denial of visas to Nicaragua's Marxist interior minister, Tomás Borge, and Hortensia Allende, the widow of the Chilean president toppled in a 1973 military coup, Roberts wrote on March 23, because the "denials were, and continue to be, particularly controversial." Roberts added: "Such gratuitous mention could divert attention from the purpose of the hearing."
He then suggested a revision that "makes the point without risking unnecessary controversy."
In July 1985, Roberts noted that there was "a good deal of intuitive appeal" to Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell's recommendation that the administration fight to narrow the scope of civil rights laws affecting universities that receive federal funds. But he acknowledged that "I do not think the administration can revisit the issue at this late date." That "would precipitate a firestorm of criticism, with little if any chance of success."
There were times, though, when Roberts counseled taking political risks in pursuit of what he saw as overriding policy benefits.
The administration had suffered politically in 1982 when Congress passed a more expansive extension of the Voting Rights Act than the Justice Department had favored.
With housing discrimination coming up again in early 1983, Roberts wrote a memo to White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding noting that the "fact that we were burned last year because we did not sail in with new voting rights legislation does not mean we will be hurt this year if we go slowly on housing legislation."
"Government intrusion . . . quite literally hits much closer to home in this area than in any other civil rights area," Roberts added. The administration should be prepared for the debate, "but I do not think there is a need to concede all or many of the controversial points . . . to preclude political damage."
"I never knew [Roberts] to be other than circumspect," said Terry Eastland, who worked for Smith and his successor, Edwin Meese III, between 1983 and 1988. "He was never the sort to radiate political conviction the way some others might. That's just the way he was. . . . But he wouldn't be there if he wasn't sympathetic to the views of the administration."