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In letter, Specter tells Roberts court 'disrespectful' of Congress

Hearing may see further criticism

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. was told by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman yesterday that lawmakers are irate about the court's ''disrespectful statements about Congress's competence" and by its interference with congressional power.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, advised Roberts in a letter that he would question the nominee on his thoughts about the court's attitude toward Congress and on two cases in which the court limited Congress's lawmaking ability.

Lawmakers have little control over what the Supreme Court does beyond the setting of the court's budget, the confirmation of justices, and the impeachment of justices and judges for wrongdoing.

That leaves Roberts's confirmation hearings as a rare opportunity for court criticism when lawmakers know justices and prospective justices are listening.

Specter called the limiting of Congress's authority ''the hallmark agenda of the judicial activism of the [Chief Justice William H.] Rehnquist court."

''I do see a great deal of popular and congressional dissatisfaction with the judicial activism, and at the minimum, the Senate's determination to confirm new justices who will respect Congress's constitutional role," Specter said.

Republicans are hoping for smooth hearings followed by a quick confirmation vote on Roberts. Though Specter did not criticize Roberts specifically, his comments introduced an element into the discussion.

Democrats pointed to Specter's letter as an indication that they, too, should be able to ask Roberts about specific legal cases at his Sept. 6 confirmation hearing. Roberts's supporters have argued that the high court nominee should not be forced to talk about individual cases and what he thinks about the issues involved.

On another subject, Senate Democrats also are pushing for more of Roberts's documents from his time as a government lawyer, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said yesterday that he would resist a broad release.

The Democrats are pressing for internal memos from Roberts's tenure as a deputy solicitor general, when he represented the White House before the Supreme Court during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

Last week the Justice Department said it would not make public records from 16 cases Roberts was involved in, dealing with issues that include abortion, affirmative action, school prayer, and capital punishment.

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