Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sen. John Cornyn turned the tables on Democrats yesterday, transforming the confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr. into one of the nastiest partisan conflicts the Senate Judiciary Committee has seen in recent years.

Throughout the four days of hearings, Democrats called for the release of internal legal documents Judge Roberts wrote while working in the Solicitor General’s Office. Republicans said those documents fall under attorney-client privilege and cannot be released.

Fed up with the repeated pleas, Mr. Cornyn, Texas Republican, reminded the Democrats on the panel of their stunned outrage when some of their own internal records wound up in public.

“It strikes me as odd, having been on the committee last year when we had an unfortunate theft of internal documents that were written by staffers of individual senators and which were published to the outside world,” he said. “There was bipartisan outrage over that and we, as I recall, referred the matter for investigation and possible prosecution.”

He was making reference to 14 internal memos that were downloaded from Democratic computers by two Republican staffers and were published by the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times. The memos revealed a cozy relationship between Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and outside groups with special interests in the federal judiciary.

In one memo, staffers for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, recommend that a Bush nominee to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals be stalled until after that appellate court had decided a landmark affirmative action case.

“The thinking is that the current 6th Circuit will sustain the affirmative action program, but if a new judge with conservative views is confirmed before the case is decided, that new judge will be able, under 6th Circuit rules, to review the case and vote on it,” the staffers wrote to Mr. Kennedy.

In another memo to Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada was singled out as “especially dangerous” because “he is Latino.” Mr. Estrada, born in Honduras, withdrew his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit after being filibustered by Democrats for eight months.

At yesterday’s hearing, Mr. Durbin reminded Mr. Cornyn that a Republican staffer — Manuel Miranda — “was discharged” over the matter, which was turned over to the Justice Department for investigation.

Just this week, it turned out, Mr. Durbin had written Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to commend his department for successfully prosecuting the man who hacked into the cell phone of hotel heiress Paris Hilton and stole her telephone records. In the letter, he asked if any precedent had been created to go after Mr. Miranda.

There was no disagreement from Republicans and, in any event, that was beside the point, Mr. Cornyn said.

“Surely if the legislative branch is entitled to confidential communications between our lawyers and us so we can do our jobs and get candid advice, the executive or the president is entitled to the same sort of confidential and candid communications,” he said.

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