The White House intends to deny the Senate Judiciary Committee documents from Supreme Court nominee John Roberts Jr.'s work in the Solicitor...

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WASHINGTON — The White House intends to deny the Senate Judiciary Committee documents from Supreme Court nominee John Roberts Jr.’s work in the Solicitor General’s Office from 1989-93, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday.

“They will not be released,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the decision has not been made public.

The administration is working on the release of other documents from Roberts’ time working for President Reagan in the 1980s, the official said. But it will claim executive privilege for materials from his time as principal deputy solicitor general — the government’s second-ranking courtroom lawyer — for former President George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1993.

The move risks a clash with Senate Democrats reminiscent of the struggle over the lower-court nomination of conservative lawyer Miguel Estrada, who was filibustered by Democrats after the White House refused to release his documents from the Solicitor General’s Office. Estrada’s nomination later was withdrawn.

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No Democrats have said publicly they will fight Roberts’ nomination. But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on Friday called for the White House to release all of Roberts’ working papers from his time working for two Republican presidents.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have not revealed which documents they will seek, but they have hinted they may want memos, briefs and other documents to shed more light on Roberts’ stands on such key issues as abortion, the environment and federal jurisdiction because of his brief tenure as a federal judge.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said material written in confidence while serving in an administration has been provided in the past — for instance by Reagan when he nominated William Rehnquist for chief justice.

But the senior official said several former solicitors general have sided with the administration in previously refusing to release documents from the Solicitor General’s Office, with Republican and Democrats alike saying the material was confidential.

“The Department of Justice will retain the confidentiality of those internal memos from Judge Roberts’ time,” the official said.

Under Reagan, Roberts was a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office. Under the first President Bush, Roberts was principal deputy solicitor general, a key position in the office that argues cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the administration.

Some of Roberts’ records already are available at the Reagan presidential library.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., one of the centrists who stopped an earlier Senate fight over Bush’s judicial nominees, urged the White House yesterday to be flexible.

“I’d hate to see us get into a battle over whether the administration was going to share documents instead of the basic question of is Judge Roberts deserving of confirmation to be a justice of the United States Supreme Court,” Lieberman said after meeting with Roberts.

Roberts continued a fourth day of meeting with senators by seeing Lieberman, as well as Senate Judiciary Committee members.

He waved off questions about whether he was a member of the Federalist Society, an influential legal group formed to counter what its members saw as growing liberalism on the bench.

A 1997-98 leadership directory for the Federalist Society lists Roberts as a steering committee member in the group’s Washington chapter, The Washington Post reported. At the time, Roberts was a partner in a private law firm.

Roberts has acknowledged participating in Federal Society events, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “He has no memory of ever joining or paying dues to the Federalist Society.”

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