Docs Reveal More About Roberts on Religion and Politics

As a young White House lawyer, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) cautioned against allowing President Reagan to say the United States was "the greatest nation God ever created," saying he feared it would lead to political ridicule.

In an Oct. 11 1984 memo, Roberts wrote that according to the Biblical book of Genesis, "God creates things like the heavens and the earth, and the birds and the fishes, but not nations."

"...The phrase strikes me as ill-advised and, particularly in light of the focus on the religion and politics issue, a likely candidate for the 'Reaganism of the Week," he wrote White House counsel Fred Fielding.

Roberts wrote his memo after reviewing remarks proposed for Reagan to make in a trip to Greenville, S.C. during his successful 1984 re-election campaign.

The memo was included in more than 50,000 pages of Reagan-era records released earlier this week, documents that show Roberts was a staunch defender of the conservative policies of the Reagan administration and a surprising critic of then-Chief Justice Warren Burger (search).

Roberts, nominated by President Bush to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search), thought little of Burger's idea to add an additional court to the federal judiciary to help relieve the high court's workload.

"While some of the tales of woe emanating from the Court are enough to bring tears to the eyes, it is true that only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren are expected to and do take the entire summer off," Roberts wrote on April 19, 1983, in a memo to Fielding, his boss at the time.

He went on to say: "The generally accepted notion that the Court can only hear roughly 150 cases a year gives the same sense of reassurance as the adjournment of the court in July, when we know the Constitution is safe for the summer."

Those words may return to haunt Roberts when he faces the Senate Judiciary Committee next month, where senators will question him on his ability and qualifications to sit on that court.

The memo and other materials made public Thursday by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and the National Archives completed the disclosure of more than 50,000 pages that cover Roberts' tenure as a lawyer in the White House counsel's office from 1982-86.

Nearly 2,000 more pages from the same period have been withheld on national security or privacy grounds.

Additionally, over the persistent protests of Senate Democrats, the White House has refused to make available any of the records covering Roberts' later tenure as principal deputy solicitor general during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

Representatives from seven liberal-leaning organizations Friday called on the White House to put out those documents, saying that what's been released so far has been troubling to them. Memoranda from his service as deputy solicitor general would "potentially say a great deal about Judge Roberts' views on important areas of the law" such as civil rights, abortion and the environment, among others, said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice.

Taken as a whole, the material released Thursday reinforced the well-established image of Roberts as a young lawyer whose views on abortion, affirmative action, school prayer and more were in harmony with the conservative president he served. In one memo, he referred favorably to efforts to "defund the left."

Democrats say they will question Roberts closely on those subjects and others at are beginning to mount an attempt to defeat his nomination.

"I have the ultimate step," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "I can use all the parliamentary rules I have as a senator to stand up and fight for you."

The documents released Thursday recalled the battles of the Reagan era and underscored the breadth of the issues that crossed Roberts' desk.

Reviewing material for Reagan, he counseled the president against saying AIDS couldn't be transmitted through casual contact, writing that scientists at that time weren't completely certain. "I would not like to see the president reassuring the public on this point, only to find out he was wrong later," he wrote.

On other issues, Roberts:

—Disparaged state efforts to combat discrimination against women and wondered whether "encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good."

—Advised senior officials not to try to circumvent the will of Congress when it established a nationwide 55 mph speed limit.

—Struggled to define the line that Reagan and other officials should not cross in encouraging private help to the forces opposing the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

He also showed a wry sense of humor in some of the documents, as he took slight shots at people like Burger.

Burger wanted administration support for a new position called "Chancellor of the United States." Burger would choose the chancellor from the appellate court judges, and assist the chief justice in his nonjudicial functions.

Roberts called it "the silliest of the provisions" in the Court Improvement Act of 1983, in an Aug. 22, 1983, memo to Fielding.

He added: "The bill does not specify whether the Chancellor will wear a powdered wig."