By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
A prominent abortion rights group launched a television ad yesterday that accuses Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. of siding with violent extremists and a convicted clinic bomber while serving in the solicitor general's office, an accusation that Roberts's supporters immediately condemned as a flagrant distortion.
The ad, sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America, focuses on Roberts's role in a case involving whether a 19th-century anti-Ku Klux Klan statute could be used to shut down blockades of health clinics by abortion protesters. The solicitor general's office filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the clinic protesters, including Operation Rescue. The high court ruled 6 to 3 against the health clinics in January 1993.
The NARAL ad, set to begin airing tomorrow on local channels in Maine and Rhode Island and nationally on the CNN and Fox News cable networks, features Emily Lyons, a clinic director who was badly injured when a bomb exploded at her clinic in Birmingham in 1998. The ad ends by urging viewers to call their senators to tell them to oppose the federal appellate judge's confirmation to the Supreme Court.
"Supreme Court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber," the ad states. The ad concludes by saying, "America can't afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans."
White House spokesman Steve Schmidt denounced the ad. "The NARAL ad is outrageously false, bordering on the slanderous," he said. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said, "By attempting to assert that Judge Roberts supports shameful criminal acts, NARAL has shown how far they will go to slander a good man for political gain."
The NARAL ad represents a significant escalation in the battle over Roberts's fitness to serve on the court. Up to now it has been marked by relatively polite sparring and a dispute between Senate Democrats and the Bush administration over access to Roberts's writings while in the solicitor general's office during the administration of George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.
The case came during a period of widespread blockades of abortion clinics, including in the Washington suburbs, and involved figures convicted of anti-clinic violence. The issue before the court in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic , however, focused more narrowly on whether the anti-discriminatory Ku Klux Klan Act could be applied against abortion protesters.
In his oral argument before the court, Roberts said, according to a transcript of the proceedings, "The United States appears in this case not to defend petitioners' tortious conduct, but to defend the proper interpretation" of the statute.
Roberts's allies said his views on violence were clear from a 1986 White House memo, endorsed by Roberts when he served in the White House counsel's office during the Reagan administration, which said violent abortion protesters should not receive special consideration for presidential pardons. "No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals," the memo said.
NARAL President Nancy Keenan defended the ad but said, "We're not suggesting that Mr. Roberts condones clinic violence."
But she said that the case came during a period of rising harassment, threats and violence against clinics and that, unlike state attorneys general, Roberts and the Justice Department had decided to support groups or individuals with a history of violence. "The groups he sided with were engaged in a horrific campaign of violence," she said.
In another development yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sent Roberts a letter warning that lawmakers are angry about the Supreme Court's denigration of Congress and by actions that have trimmed congressional powers. He said he plans to question Roberts closely about the issue in next month's hearings.
Staff writer Jo Becker and researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.