Roberts Showed Little Tolerance for Political Threats

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) suggested a conservative Ronald Reagan supporter "go soak his head" after he criticized the White House for avoiding a friend's fight with immigration officials, new documents show.

Roberts also pushed the Reagan administration to get its conservative policies enacted so future presidents could not readily abrogate them, according to the papeernment lawyer.

Roberts, nominated by President Bush to succeed the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, served as an assistant to the White House counsel and the attorney general under President Reagan and deputy solicitor general under the first President Bush.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that Roberts, then working as an assistant to White House counsel Fred Fielding in 1984, had corresponded with Bob Jones III (search), the former president of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., about the case of Peter Ng, a fundamentalist minister.

Jones, then president of a university that has rebuffed criticism for its Christian fundamentalist beliefs, had complained to the White House that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was harassing Ng.

The White House responded by saying that it couldn't get involved in the case. In a Jan. 4, 1984 memo, Roberts said it had received another plea from Jones.

"Mr. Jones suggests in his letter that you would have reacted differently to an alleged civil rights violation, and in a thinly veiled threat, asserts that the alleged insensitivity of the administration to fundamentalist Christians will not go unnoticed by that sizable voting block," Roberts said in a memo to Fielding.

The university lost its tax-exempt status in the 1970s because the Internal Revenue Service said the school discriminated on the basis of race. At the time, the school didn't admit black students and forbade interracial dating among students.

President Reagan supported the school's tax exempt status, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the IRS in 1983.

"The audacity of Jones' reply is truly remarkable, given that the political costs this administration has incurred in promoting the interests of fundamental Christians in general and Bob Jones University in particular," Roberts wrote to Fielding. "A restrained reply to his petulant paranoia is attached for your review, telling Jones, in essence, to go soak his head."

Roberts, working as an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith in 1982, co-wrote a memo to the attorney general advocating codifying the department's conservative policies, saying decisions not to seek busing or hiring quotas, "could be instantly reversed when a new administration took office."

"In certain areas -- busing and quotas, for example -- it makes eminent sense to pursue legislation to guarantee that our policies cannot be easily undone," said Roberts in a March 15, 1982 memo he co-wrote with fellow special assistant Carolyn Kuh (search)l.

Roberts, who faces Senate confirmation hearings starting next week, also seemed to express some displeasure with the federal judiciary in that memo.

"Conservative distaste for the growing influence of courts in society suggests the development of alternatives to litigation which are less dependent on the fiat of unelected jurists," he and Kuhl said in their joint memo.

They noted that Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger and the American Bar Association were calling for exploration of arbitration, and some Christian fundamentalist groups had formed negotiation programs.

"Exploring some of these areas would be fully consistent with a desire to abate the influence of the courts and also to ease the burden on them," they wrote.

Kuhl is now a California state judge. She withdrew her nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco after Democrats filibustered her nomination.

Roberts will face questions from some of those same Democrats. He will hold his second meeting with the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, later Monday.