Leading gay rights groups yesterday dismissed as inconsequential Judge John G. Roberts Jr.'s pro bono work on a gay rights case in the 1990s and came out in strong opposition to his nomination to the Supreme Court.
"For his entire adult life, John Roberts has been a disciple of and promoted a political and legal ideology that is antithetical to an America that embraces all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement. "I have no doubt he's an accomplished lawyer and an affable dinner companion, but that doesn't make him any less a mortal danger to equal rights for gay people, reproductive freedom and affirmative action."
Some Democratic senators thought gay rights groups would hold their fire because Roberts provided assistance to lawyers in the 1996 Romer v. Evans case, a Supreme Court decision that solidified legal protections for gays. But the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays issued a statement saying his involvement was minor.
"We are mindful that Judge Roberts provided a few hours of pro bono help to the attorneys in Romer v. Evans -- a landmark case for our community," the organizations said. "Some have said that this work -- which consisted mostly of playing the role of a conservative justice -- demonstrates that Roberts is not personally anti-gay. This theory is not relevant to the important issue for our community: how Roberts would vote as a Supreme Court justice." Conservatives generally agree with the assessment that Roberts's work in the case was neither consequential nor indicative of his views on gay rights, though some were initially critical.
Echoing many of the concerns voiced by other liberal interest groups, the gay rights organizations said Roberts appears hostile to civil rights, personal privacy and individual freedoms. "Judge Roberts has such a narrow view of what the courts can and should do, it's a wonder he wants the job at all," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Ultimately, this is about an individual's right to privacy. From women's rights to religious freedom to civil rights, there is powerful evidence that Judge Roberts would rule against equality."
In highlighting their concern, the groups pointed to Lawrence v. Texas, in which the high court ruled in favor of legal and privacy protections for gays, overruling the state legislature. In recently released memos, Roberts has raised questions about courts intruding into areas where legislatures should rule.
The organizations are largely basing their opinions on Roberts's work for President Ronald Reagan more than 20 years ago, when the nominee was an employee at the Justice Department and then in the White House counsel's office. The National Archives has released 60,000 papers that include Roberts's views from that period. In most cases, the papers show a young lawyer opining on the key issues of the day, including affirmative action and equal protection for women and gays.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings nearing, liberal interest groups are pressuring Democratic senators to oppose Roberts and subject him to tough questioning about his views on issues such as gay rights and abortion. The first phase of their strategy is for different groups to announce their opposition on different days to create an impression of growing anti-Roberts momentum in the run-up to the hearings.
"There are a great many groups that determined they would oppose whomever President Bush nominated," White House spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "The only open question was which day they would do it."
As part of an effort to defend Roberts, a number of black leaders, including Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality and Robert L. Woodson Sr. of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, endorsed the nominee yesterday. "A large segment of the African American community . . . is standing firmly behind John Roberts . . . and his judicial philosophy," Innis said.