WASHINGTON – Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) will begin the day after Labor Day, but Senate Democrats say the White House must release more documents to ensure he's wearing a justice's black robes before the new term begins in October.
"There is no reason why the date cannot be met, but we need the full cooperation of the administration," Sen. Patrick Leahy (search), the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said Friday.
President Bush officially nominated Roberts as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Friday, and Senate Republicans later announced that confirmation hearings would begin Sept. 6. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., also said he planned to begin the floor debate on Roberts in the full Senate no later than Sept. 26.
The announcement, however, did not come until after Democrats agreed not to delay Roberts' nomination in committee and not to block the confirmation process through procedural maneuvers on the Senate floor.
Judiciary Democrats also agreed to let the committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., call for a final committee vote Sept. 15, a little more than a week after the hearings begin. However, Democrats have refused to guarantee that a committee vote on Roberts will happen that day.
Specter had threatened, over Democratic objections, to schedule hearings during Congress' August recess to ensure Roberts is confirmed before the Supreme Court begins its new term Oct. 3. The agreement with Democrats means Roberts probably will have a smoother ride in the Senate, Specter said.
"The Senate and the Judiciary Committee can accomplish more in three cooperative hours than in three days or three weeks of disharmonious activity," Specter said.
Democrats also are pushing to get additional paperwork from the White House on Roberts before starting confirmation hearings. The eight Judiciary Democrats sent a letter Friday to the Justice Department asking for documents from 16 cases that Roberts worked on while serving as principal deputy solicitor general.
The Democrats say the documents they want deal with "important issues about civil rights and fundamental constitutional principles" and that the department released similar documents for Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court.
"It's important that at the hearings, whenever they come, we ought to be assured that the information that we've requested as well is available to us," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
The White House has released some documents, but Democrats are demanding other papers from Roberts' time as principal deputy solicitor general during the administration of the first President Bush. The White House plans to deny access to those papers, citing a need "to preserve the attorney-client privilege for this administration" and in the future, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Kennedy and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards have used a review of paperwork that Roberts drafted while he worked in the Reagan administration to criticize him.
Some other Democrats have called Roberts "outstanding" and have said they'd been assured he wouldn't be a conservative activist on the court. But Edwards said the paperwork shows a "very different young lawyer at work, a partisan for conservative causes."
Edwards, who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, voted to confirm Roberts' nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia when Edwards was a Judiciary Committee member two years ago.
"The recent release of documents from the Reagan administration shows a very different young lawyer at work, a partisan for conservative causes. Someone who opposed efforts to remedy discrimination on the basis of sex and race," Edwards said in his prepared remarks for a speech to the American Constitution Society. "Someone who opposed measures to protect voting rights ... The question now is, who is the real Judge Roberts?"
In one document released this week, Roberts, then working in the White House, wrote that legislation designed to overturn a Supreme Court ruling would "radically expand the civil rights laws to areas never before considered covered." He recommended against it.
In another, he wrote that the administration could "go slowly on housing legislation" without fearing political damage.