NAACP legal fund attacks Roberts as civil rights opponent


Judge John G. Roberts Jr. has been "hostile" to civil rights and, if confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, would move to undo decades of hard-fought civil rights gains, according to a report released yesterday from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In an analysis of documents from the National Archives and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the report concludes that Roberts helped shape the Reagan administration's anti-civil rights policies concerning voting, affirmative action, housing and employment.

"We call it an era of retrenchment," said Leslie Proll, director of the legal defense fund's Washington office. "I think the civil rights community collectively has many negative memories. And we find out now that John Roberts was deeply planted right in the middle of much of that activity."

The report was released the same day a coalition of women's rights groups and civil rights advocates formally announced their opposition to Roberts' appointment to the high court in a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol. They called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask thorough questions of Roberts when confirmation hearings start Tuesday.

The legal defense fund's report paints a picture of Roberts as more than an adviser to Attorney General William French Smith on civil rights policies, but as an activist who narrowly interpreted civil rights law.

In 1982, during congressional hearings on amending the Voting Rights Act to protect against diluting the black vote, Roberts wrote 25 memos arguing the administration's position to oppose such an amendment, the report said.

Roberts wrote that affirmative action should only be applied on an individual basis, not as a policy of institutions or the government, the report stated. He also criticized a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report outlining the need for affirmative action, and filed briefs opposing affirmative action in his later career in private practice, the report said.

The report also quotes a memo Roberts wrote to Smith concerning a dispute over the Labor Department's support of affirmative action, in which he states: "Under our view of the law it is not enough to say that blacks and women have been historically discriminated against as groups and are therefore entitled to special preferences."

Ted Shaw, president of the legal defense fund, said although his organization opposed the nominations of Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas, as well as the promotion of William H. Rehnquist to chief justice, it does not often take a position on Supreme Court nominations.

In the news conference, Bruce S. Gordon, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - which is a separate organization from the legal defense fund - said Roberts' positions on civil rights are opposite of those of the NAACP.

"While it comes as no surprise that the nominee's views are different than ours, it is the seemingly extreme nature of those views, the degree of difference, that make his candidacy unacceptable," he said.

The announcement came days after several conservative black groups endorsed Roberts.

Project 21's Mychal Massie called Roberts "the type of jurist who represents the beliefs of great Americans such as James Madison and Martin Luther King Jr."

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