In a typical summer, most Washingtonians with any alternatives flee this hot, muggy city in August, and the pace of business in the capital slows significantly.
President Bush left last week in favor of the even hotter environs of his grass- hopper-infested ranch in Crawford, Texas. Many members of Congress are home for what the legislative branch calls its "summer district work period."
Still, this summer is different. On Capitol Hill, at the White House, and at think tanks of varying political persuasions, researchers and strategists are hard at work trolling through thousands of pages of documents from John Roberts's career as a judge, private lawyer, and government official. Their goal: to find new clues into how Judge Roberts might rule on key issues if he is confirmed as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court.
The results of all this research will be used at confirmation hearings scheduled to begin Sept. 6. They are already popping up in a battle of television ads over the nomination that started this week. An abortion-rights group and a group of Roberts's supporters are trading charges in TV spots currently airing on various cable news outlets. At issue: the meaning of arguments Roberts made to the Supreme Court while in the Solicitor General's office about the right of protesters to block access to abortion clinics.
The process of research on Roberts "doesn't stop," says Tracy Schmaler, spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The panel's Democrats have six people reviewing documents full time and have another five specialists on call on specific issues preparing for the confirmation hearings, she says.
"We are telling our colleagues on the right not to take the summer off, not to see [confirmation] as a done deal," says Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a key group on the political right on judicial nominations. "It will be harder than people are thinking it will be."
"We continue to share our concerns about Roberts's record with the public at large as well as our network of members," says Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal group that led the fight against the earlier nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. The organization hosted an event on Roberts's record at this week's American Bar Association annual meeting.
It is not just opponents who are focused on Roberts's record. Senate Republican staffers are busily reviewing documents from Roberts's past, as is the White House.
And, as first reported in The Washington Post, White House lawyers have been sent to the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. They are combing through previously unreleased documents from Roberts's service from 1981 to 1986 as assistant to US Attorney General William French Smith and as associate counsel in the Reagan White House.
While the White House looks for surprises in an estimated 50,000 pages of relevant papers, Senate Democrats are complaining that the flow of information to them has stopped. In a letter to Mr. Bush sent Tuesday, Senator Leahy requested that the documents be provided to the committee "in small batches as they are processed."
Late last week, the White House said it would not provide senators with documents from Roberts's service from 1989 to 1993 as principal deputy solicitor general of the United States. The attorney general's office says doing so is "simply contrary to the public interest." Leahy says the decision deprives citizens of "the records that are the most meaningful" as the Senate considers Bush's first Supreme Court nomination.
In late July, the White House sent the Judiciary Committee six boxes containing 11,000 documents. On Aug. 2, the committee received an additional 330 pages.
From the documents already released, a number of tantalizing nuggets emerged, which offered somewhat conflicting clues on Roberts' legal philosophy. For example, while he was an assistant to Attorney General Smith, Roberts drafted a series of memos in 1981 explaining why the Reagan administration was correct to oppose Congress's efforts to make it easier to prove voting rights violations.
On the other hand, as a lawyer in private practice, Roberts worked behind the scenes for gay-rights activists, and his legal expertise helped them persuade the Supreme Court to issue a landmark 1996 ruling protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, a development first reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Some of the disclosures showed the range of Roberts's work for corporate clients.
For example, Roberts acknowledged that he had registered as a lobbyist for the cosmetics industry in 2001, a fact he omitted on a questionnaire he delivered to the Judiciary Committee.
A financial disclosure form showed that Roberts took a major pay cut when he became a federal appeals court judge in 2003 at a salary of $171,800. He had been making more than $1 million a year at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson.