Democrats said yesterday they will demand that the Bush administration hand over internal legal memorandums written by Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. while he was a government lawyer -- something the White House has refused to do in the past.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he broached the topic during a meeting yesterday with Judge Roberts, who replied that any decision about his writings as deputy solicitor general would be made by the White House.
Republicans on Capitol Hill said the request is not likely to be granted.
Demands for those same documents -- deemed legally privileged by this and previous administrations -- led to the rejection of Miguel Estrada, an earlier Bush nominee to a lower court.
Democrats have used this tactic to stall the nomination of John R. Bolton, Mr. Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.
Some Republicans said yesterday that the demands may be early signs of a stealth campaign by Democrats to kill the Supreme Court nomination by demanding documents they know they won't get -- a strategy one Republican termed "Estradification."
"This tactic was first fielded against Miguel Estrada, recently perfected with the nomination of John Bolton, and now some are fully primed to Estradify this fine nominee," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday he doesn't think "Democrats are going to get away with that this time."
"Democrats know that if they are going to play that partisan game again, in something where the stakes are this large with a person of this quality and who they know who is qualified to be on the court, the American people are not going to put up with it," he said after meeting with Judge Roberts. "And the administration is not going to put up with it."
The conflict arose on a day that several more members of the Senate -- including Democrats -- said publicly that Judge Roberts appears headed for confirmation without a filibuster, or even a particularly spirited fight.
"My sense is: So far, so good," said Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat and member of the so-called Gang of 14 senators who earlier this year ended most of the filibusters against Mr. Bush's judicial nominees. The group signed a deal that prohibits Democrats from participating in a filibuster of a judicial nominee except in "extraordinary circumstances."
"I think no one has seen extraordinary circumstances," Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and signer to the agreement, said after a private meeting of the group. "There's no indication so far that there will be a filibuster. I think that was the consensus in the meeting, but I think people are reserving the right to see what comes out of the hearings."
Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and deal signer, called Judge Roberts a "wise choice."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and another signer to the deal, called him a "credible nominee -- not one, as far as we know now, who has a record that in any sense can be described as extremist."
A tally taken by The Washington Times of 100 senators earlier this week found 44 in support of Judge Roberts and another 15 -- including several Democrats -- undecided but who have made positive comments. If these senators keep to these positions -- a big "if" -- there would be enough votes to confirm Judge Roberts, and even to snuff a filibuster.
Judge Roberts had several more meetings yesterday with senators, most of whom gave generally positive reports.
"It was a very cordial meeting," Mr. Schumer said of the 55 minutes he spent with the federal judge. "It was a very friendly meeting."
Mr. Schumer released to reporters a seven-page list of questions he planned to ask the nominee during his confirmation hearing. But Mr. Schumer declined to say what Judge Roberts said to him. "I'm not going to say anything about his part of the conversation because I think we ought to keep that private," said Mr. Schumer, who voted against Judge Roberts' confirmation in 2003 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
A few minutes later, Mr. Schumer revealed one tidbit: "He told me that he hoped that he could persuade me to win his vote over," he said. "And I said I hope he could, too."
James G. Lakely contributed to this report.