WASHINGTON (AP) – A lawmaker who played a prominent role in the civil rights movement, a woman who sued the government to get handicapped access to courthouses and Richard Nixon’s former White House lawyer will testify at Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ confirmation hearing, Democrats said Friday.

Their selection as witnesses may indicate what Democrats will focus on next week when they question President Bush’s choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Roberts, a former government lawyer in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, begins his confirmation proceedings on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thirty witnesses have been scheduled to speak at Roberts’ confirmation hearings – 15 chosen by Republicans and 15 by Democrats.

Democrats will counter with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who participated in the civil rights struggles that helped secure passage of the law in 1965; Carol Browner, the longest serving EPA administrator; and John Dean, Nixon’s former White House counsel who testified in the Senate’s Watergate investigation.

Dean argued in a recent column that the White House should release Roberts’ working papers from his time as principal deputy solicitor general.

The White House has refused to give the Senate those documents. “The Senate has the right to look at Roberts’ papers,” Dean wrote.

Also testifying is Beverly Jones, a court reporter who successfully sued because she could not get into at least 25 courthouses in Tennessee because she uses a wheelchair. She said she was forced at times to be carried to work by other people in the courthouse.

“I am very concerned that the individual that the president has named to succeed Justice O’Connor, John Roberts, must show that he is committed to guaranteeing and upholding the rights of all Americans,” she said at a Capitol news conference in July. “And for me, that means … people with disabilities.”

Also testifying for the Democrats will be the leaders of several groups that have officially announced opposition to Roberts: Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Marcia Greenburger of National Women’s Law Center, Ann Marie Tallman of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Karen Pearl of Planned Parenthood.

The documents released Friday by the National Archive showed Roberts, then a lawyer in the Reagan White House counsel’s office, trying to walk a fine line on several issues.

In a Sept. 29, 1983 memo, he treaded carefully when a Kentucky group seeking to promote closer ties between church and state wrote for permission to use the presidential seal in a National Motto display.

Roberts noted that the Kentucky Heritage Foundation had donated copies of the Ten Commandments to Kentucky public schools under a state law later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. “Promotion of the National Motto is apparently the foundation’s next step,” Roberts wrote, before advising the group to use another image rather than the presidential seal.

In an Aug. 28, 1985, memo, Roberts sought to strike a balance when a then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote asking his views on revising libel laws.

Roberts responded in a memo to his boss Fred Fielding that he did not believe the White House should get involved in a debate on loosening legal restrictions for public figures who want to sue when they believe they’ve been improperly maligned by the press.

He wrote that he personally believed that legislatures should make it easier for public figures to sue, but at the same time eliminate punitive damages against media organizations. He suggested the question be referred to the Justice Department for review.

Schumer is now a senator who will question Roberts next week at the Judiciary Committee hearings.


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