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Sen. Patrick Leahy, who will lead the Democratic questioning at John Roberts’ confirmation hearings, criticized the Supreme Court nominee Tuesday as an “eager, aggressive advocate” for policies of the Republican far right wing. One day after the release of 5,000 pages of Reagan-era records, the Vermont Democrat said in a statement that Roberts’ views were “among the most radical being offered by a cadre intent on reversing decades of policies on civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, privacy and access to justice.” Leahy stopped short of announcing his opposition to the appointment, in keeping with a call from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for the rank and file to wait for confirmation hearings before making decisions. But his statement was by far the most critical he has made since President Bush nominated Roberts to the high court, and among the most scathing by any Democrat. Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman, said Leahy’s comments reflected a Democratic strategy — predating Roberts’ nomination — of trying to depict Bush’s nominee as ideologically extreme. “The ease with which Sen. Leahy distorts Judge Roberts’ record is troubling and may indicate that the Democrats are not yet done trying to make that argument, although it has already been discredited,” Schmidt said. Leahy spoke out as several officials said People For the American Way, a prominent civil rights group, is likely to announce its opposition to Roberts’ confirmation by the end of next week. These officials said the announcement could mark the beginning of a string of such declarations from other organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Alliance for Justice. They spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that formal decisions have not yet been made. Other groups gave indications of following. Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, says the organization leaders were “still evaluating his record and have not made a formal decision. But obviously every day our concerns continue to grow about him and his candidacy.” Ralph Neas, president of People For The American Way, declined to comment on his own organization’s plans. However, he said a “significant number of progressive organizations will soon be coming out against the Roberts nomination.” At the same time, Neas prodded Senate Democrats in public and private to outline the stakes involved in Roberts’ appointment. Bush named Roberts to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was often a swing vote on issues such as affirmative action and abortion. In a private meeting with Senate Democratic aides, Neas said angrily that the public was being left with the impression that Roberts’ confirmation proceedings were a mere formality, according to several participants. For his part, Reid, D-Nev., seemed eager to rebut any such suggestion. “All this talk about whether Democrats will support the Roberts nomination is laughably premature. The hearings have not even begun.” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., also urged fellow Democrats to avoid making a decision on their vote until after the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, set to begin Sept. 6. “I can tell you from having gone through 20 Supreme Court nominations — and hundreds of other contested nominations — that the process is frequently slow, and, not surprisingly, that the most important information — one way or the other — is frequently not discovered or understood until a late stage,” he wrote. In material released Monday, Roberts emerged as an attorney serving in the Reagan White House who held views generally in line with those of other conservatives. He was sympathetic to prayer in public schools, dismissive of “comparable worth,” referred to the “tragedy of abortion” and took a swipe at the Supreme Court for being too willing to hear multiple appeals from death row inmates. “Those papers that we have paint a picture of John Roberts as an eager and aggressive advocate of policies that are deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right wing of his party, then and now,” Leahy said in his statement. He also pressed the Democrats’ prior demand for records from Roberts’ time as principal deputy solicitor general during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The White House has refused to make those papers available, and Leahy wrote that in doing so, “they raise the inference that there is much to hide.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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