WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) gave assurances he wouldn't be an activist if confirmed, a key Democrat who already was leaning toward supporting him said Thursday.
"I don't see anything that's going to be disturbing" in his record, Sen. Ben Nelson told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with President Bush's choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor (search) on the high court.
Democrats have been pushing to review as many of Roberts' writings as possible, hoping to gain a better understanding of his personal views and the extent to which he might seek to inject them into his judicial rulings.
"He said he would not be an activist judge," Nelson said.
Roberts, in his second week of visiting key senators, and declined to answer questions from reporters in advance of his televised confirmation process before the Judiciary Committee. "I don't think it would be appropriate," said Roberts, took part in a picture-taking session with Nelson after their meeting.
Nelson, D-Neb., is one of the leaders of the "Gang of 14," seven Republicans and seven Democrats who averted a Senate showdown over Bush's lower-court judicial nominees earlier this year. They agreed in May to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures. They also signed a pact not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances.
"I have not seen anything that rises to that level," Nelson said.
While Nelson is "leaning yes" on Roberts' nomination, he said he would reserve final judgment until after confirmation hearings. "It's the unexpected that comes out in the hearings," he said.
Democrats are calling for the release of more of Roberts' paperwork as a government lawyer before his confirmation hearings begin, saying the Bush administration's withholding of those documents may cause a delay in getting Roberts confirmed to replace O'Connor.
Republicans insist the demands for documents are misguided.
"They don't have anything on him now, but they're still digging and hoping," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of Roberts' most vocal boosters.
The White House says its Tuesday release of documents from Roberts' time in the Reagan administration should be sufficient for the Senate to confirm him before the Supreme Court begins its new term October 3.
But Judiciary Democrats say they need more than what the Bush administration has given them to judge Roberts properly.
"The Senate has a duty to the American people of today and tomorrow to get it right. I hope the White House will help and not hinder the Senate in getting it right," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
Republicans are pushing to start Roberts' confirmation hearings Aug. 29, interrupting the Senate's monthlong summer vacation, unless Democrats promise to allow a confirmation vote before the end of September.
"Absent that kind of commitment, it seems to me that duty will call on us to go ahead with August 29th," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Refusing to disclose all of Roberts' documents while pushing Democrats to agree to a confirmation vote before the end of September will cause problems, especially if the nominee plans not to answer all questions at the hearings, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"Something has to give," said Schumer, who is on the Judiciary Committee. "If the nominee does not want to answer questions, then we need more documents. If there is a moratorium on documents, then we need the nominee to answer questions more forthrightly and we need more time to ask those questions."
The White House is invoking attorney-client privilege in withholding legal writings by Roberts when he was principal deputy solicitor general under the first President Bush. The administration has released thousands of documents dating from Roberts' tenure as a special assistant in the Justice Department from 1981-82.
Other documents from that time could take several weeks to be released, giving senators little time to review them before confirmation hearings, said Leahy. "I trust they understand that would be the wrong way to proceed and risk adding more time to the process."
The White House said it has asked for Roberts' tax returns for the last three years, but Bush spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say whether the Senate will get that information.
"I think it's fair to ask for these papers," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., when asked if she wanted to see Roberts' writings and tax returns. "I think it's fair to be able to look at these papers."
But Democrats as well as Republicans have continued to give Roberts glowing reviews as he continued his tour of senators' offices. Schumer said Wednesday that Roberts assured him he would not act as an ideologue if he makes it to the Supreme Court.
"He told me flatly that he is not an ideologue and said that he shares my aversion to ideologues," Schumer said in a speech at the National Press Club.