Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Slate's Jurisprudence: Still More Roberts Docs

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, we get the buzz from the world's foremost mosquito expert.

First, more background emerging on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Yesterday, the Reagan Presidential Library released thousands of pages of documents from Judge Roberts' time as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration. The documents, largely the judge's own files, show him to be a fierce defender of Mr. Reagan's conservative views. Dahlia Lithwick is legal analyst for the online magazine Slate and a regular guest on DAY TO DAY.

Dahlia, welcome back, and what are the most interesting things you find in these new files?

DAHLIA LITHWICK (Slate): Well, as you say, Alex, there are thousands of pages, but the things that sort of jump out are it's clear that Roberts says, for instance, that he had no objection to amending the Constitution to allow a period of silent prayer or mediation in schools. Moreover, he believed that a Supreme Court case that had struck down such a moment was, quote, "indefensible."

He also said that he thought that Congress had the authority to enact, quote, "court-stripping legislation," that would preclude the federal courts from viewing certain things, although he said he thought that would be, quote, "bad policy."

He was clearly, from these papers strongly opposed--and this is a theme we've seen with him before--strongly opposed to efforts to create pay parity between men and women for comparable work. And in one rather striking note relating to a proposed California memorial service for aborted fetuses that would have been a protest of Roe v. Wade, he said that President Reagan could, in fact, endorse the service because it was, quote, "entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy." So it's fairly clear that he was not mincing words on abortion.

There are some funny moments, too. There's a moment where he says that the White House should be filmed for a Peanuts special called "This Is America, Charlie Brown," but he didn't think that a Reagan character in that special would be appropriate.

CHADWICK: Uh-huh. Well, OK. Kind of a middle ground on Peanuts, but pretty conservative views. But does this cast the character of John Roberts in a way that's unexpected at all?

LITHWICK: Well, it jibes fairly readily with the early documents that we've already seen. It's clear he was a pretty determined foot soldier in that Reagan revolution. He believed very strongly that there was no right to privacy in the Constitution, he believed that efforts to sort of equalize pay or opportunity for genders, for race were misguided on the part of the government and he was strongly opposed to the exclusionary rule, which keeps the fruits of illegal searches out of a criminal case. So it's very, very clear he was walking sort of in lockstep with what the other young attorneys in the Reagan White House were thinking in the 1980s.

CHADWICK: He has said in his confirmation hearing to be on the Court of Appeals he regards Roe v. Wade as settled law.

LITHWICK: I think that's true, and I think that it's important to recognize that several of the justices on the current Supreme Court who have continued to uphold Roe v. Wade agree--I think maybe not as strongly as Roberts has put it, but agree that it was not a very well-reasoned or principled case and that they uphold it anyway because of stare decisis, that notion that courts don't go around reversing themselves easily. So I think it's important to separate his own views. He probably think it's badly reasoned; that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to vote to strike it down.

CHADWICK: So these documents are all from the Reagan administration. What else are you waiting to see, Dahlia? What other documents are coming?

LITHWICK: Well, there are more documents from the Reagan era. The Reagan Library says that they only produced about 5,000 pages of documents. They say they have 50,000 pages of documents relating to Roberts. Some of those are not going to be released; others will be released in the future. But what the White House does not intend to turn over--at least they're saying they will not turn it over--is any documents relating to Roberts' tenure as the deputy solicitor general in Bush One's administration. So Bush's father when he was in the White House--any documents relating to Roberts' time then are not being released by the White House.

CHADWICK: And that was when Judge Roberts had a more senior, more important policy job.

LITHWICK: Correct, and it was also more recent. That was from 1989 to '93. It's arguable that his views have evolved in a fairly profound way over the past 20 years; it's not as clear that his views will have evolved so much over 10 years and that those documents become important for temporal reasons in addition to political reasons.

CHADWICK: Opinion and analysis from Dahlia Lithwick. She's a legal analyst for the online magazine Slate and a regular guest here on DAY TO DAY.

Thank you, Dahlia.

LITHWICK: My pleasure, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Related Stories