The Cordial Nominee Once Had Choice Words for Lawmakers

By Jo Becker and Brian Faler
Thursday, September 1, 2005

John G. Roberts Jr. has been very courteous while making the rounds on Capitol Hill in anticipation of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings next week. But he was far less respectful of lawmakers two decades ago, when he was a young lawyer in the Reagan White House.

In one case, Roberts bemoaned a proposal to ease the Supreme Court's workload that had the support of then-Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and was gaining steam in Congress. "Our only hope," Roberts wrote in an October 1983 memo, "is that Congress will continue to do what it does best -- nothing."

He also criticized the Democratic majority for voting to posthumously award Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.) a Congressional Gold Medal after he was killed near Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978 while investigating whether cult leader Jim Jones was holding people against their will. In a Nov. 18, 1983, memo to then-White House counsel Fred Fielding, Roberts wrote: "The distinction of his service in the House is certainly subject to debate, and his actions leading to his murder can be viewed as those of a publicity hound."

The two memos were among of 420 pages of documents released yesterday by the National Archives. More than 1,700 pages of documents had been withheld on the grounds that they were exempt from public disclosure. After Democrats and news organizations protested, a small portion was released.

Roberts heads into his confirmation hearings with Republicans in control of the Senate and mounting opposition from liberal groups. Yesterday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund announced its opposition to Roberts. The group was joined by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and several women's groups that say Roberts's record on minority and women's rights would set the nation back decades.

White House spokesman Steve Schmidt, noting that conservative groups representing women and minorities have announced support for Roberts, said that the move was "predictable."

Place Your Dingell Bid

How much is a lunch with Rep. John D. Dingell worth? The Michigan Democrat is auctioning off a lunch, along with a tour of the Capitol, on the Web site eBay to benefit a Detroit-area public radio station. "One lucky winning bidder will have the opportunity of a lifetime with a gift certificate for lunch and a U.S. Capitol tour in Washington D.C. for four with Congressman Dingell and his staff," the site said. After a day and a half, 21 bids had pushed the price to $222.50. Sale ends Sept. 8.

Santorum Digs Up War Doubts

Democrats snickered last week when Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) insisted that he had questioned the Bush administration's Iraq policies even if his aides could not find those statements. Santorum is in a tough battle for reelection against Democrat Bob Casey Jr. who had accused him of not asking "the tough questions" about Bush's Iraq policies.

Well, let the record show that the comments in question have turned up -- in print. Santorum's office said it found a transcript of a Sept. 21, 2004, news conference in which he questioned "our tactics in Fallujah."

"I have concerns -- about tactics and decisions that were made," he said, according to a transcript produced by the Federal News Service. "I think you'd find a lot of Republicans who are very willing to second-guess our tactics in Fallujah, for example."

Not good enough for Casey's camp. "It took Santorum more than a week to dig up some year-old obscure quote that blames our military rather than challenging the administration's conduct of this war," Casey aide Jay Reiff told the Philadelphia Inquirer.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company