- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

As special assistant to the attorney general in the Reagan administration, John G. Roberts Jr. urged the Justice Department to keep its distance from an eager and demanding “new right,” even characterizing one of the giants of the conservative movement as “no friend of ours.”

Judge Roberts, then a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, wrote several memos in 1981 and 1982 giving advice to his boss on handling pressure from conservative groups elated by ideological soul mate Ronald Reagan’s winning the White House.

An examination by The Washington Times of documents from that period reveal a memo written on Dec. 14, 1981, to fellow Justice underling and future Clinton impeachment investigator Kenneth W. Starr.

Judge Roberts suggested that the department “keep as low a profile as possible” concerning a book titled “A Blueprint for Judicial Reform” put out by the conservative Free Congress Foundation, an organization founded in 1974 by Paul Weyrich, who remains one of the leading conservative intellectuals.

The liberal-leaning American Bar Association (ABA) had inquired about Mr. Smith’s opinions on some of the ideas in Mr. Weyrich’s book.

Judge Roberts did not paint a flattering portrait of Mr. Weyrich or his ideas, even misspelling the man’s name.

“I suggest we keep as low a profile on this as possible,” Judge Roberts wrote. “Weyerich is of course no friend of ours, but it won’t help to stir up the influential contributors to his volume, and any comment by the AG will simply highlight the fact that we have yet to take a position” on some hot-button issues.

Judge Roberts recommended having a Justice Department spokesman return the ABA’s phone call and “acknowledge that the AG has met with Weyerich and received a copy of his book,” but hasn’t had the time to read it and “therefore cannot comment on its substance.”

Calls to the Free Congress Foundation for comment were not returned yesterday.

Judge Roberts also suggested that the spokesman could make it clear to the ABA that Mr. Smith was not beholden to influential conservatives.

“The AG’s own pronouncements in the area speak for themselves, and do not include all that has been reported to be in Weyerich’s book,” Judge Roberts wrote.

To prepare Mr. Smith for a speech before conservative groups, Judge Roberts said in a Feb. 16, 1982, memo that he reviewed all the issues of National Review, Conservative Digest and Human Events since Mr. Reagan’s inauguration — as well as policy papers put out by the Heritage Foundation “and sundry other tracts.”

Though little of the conservative commentary dealt with the Justice Department, “what has been written has been almost invariably negative,” Judge Roberts wrote.

The “new right” was attacking Justice on personnel matters, with Human Events sharply criticizing “Carter holdovers [that] are thwarting implementation of conservative policy by presenting only established liberal legal dogma to their superiors, who are ill-equipped to refute the analyses presented to them,” he wrote.

Judge Roberts wrote that some of the attacks were “completely unfounded,” and advised Mr. Smith to aggressively rebut the criticism.

“Invariably when the new right disagrees with Department policy, the attack is quickly converted into an ad hominem assault on the ideological credentials of the responsible appointee,” Judge Roberts wrote. “Since this is the central critique of the management of the Department, it merits a substantial and considered refutation.”

Judge Roberts also prepped Mr. Smith for a Jan. 28, 1982, meeting with John Lofton, then editor of Conservative Digest. His approach was more subtle than his advice for Mr. Weyrich.

“Mr. Lofton will doubtless arrive with many criticisms of the Department for not advancing conservative ideals,” Judge Roberts wrote. “While we should certainly listen to his concerns, I also think we should use the opportunity to impress upon him not only your own personal conservative instincts, but also the many areas in which those instincts have shaped Department policy.”

One way to satisfy Mr. Lofton, Judge Roberts suggested, is to stress that the department’s “judicial restraint program” was the “first serious effort to do something about what conservatives have been saying about the courts.”

Another was to point out that Justice “no longer seeks busing or affirmative-action quotas,” two issues that Judge Roberts focused on during his tenure in the Reagan administration.

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