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Rights groups denounce Roberts ahead of hearings

Court nominee painted as threat to equal justice

WASHINGTON -- Leading civil rights and women's rights groups voiced opposition to Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. yesterday in a difficult bid to deny the 50-year-old conservative confirmation by the Senate.

With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to begin confirmation hearings Tuesday, the groups cited Roberts's record, primarily as a lawyer in the Reagan administration two decades ago, to portray him as a threat to equal justice who should be denied a seat on the nation's highest court.

''John Roberts's record is extensive and troubling," Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women & Families said at a Capitol Hill news conference. ''John Roberts consistently has taken the most narrow, restrictive views of civil rights and women's rights."

She was joined by leaders of the NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and National Women's Law Center.

A parade of liberal groups have come out against Roberts in recent days, and more plan to do so. Many are particularly concerned that Roberts might seek to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Roberts's defenders, including fiscal and social conservatives, have dismissed the criticism while applauding the nominee as a ''mainstream conservative" who recently received the American Bar Association's highest rating.

Heading into the hearings, expected to last about a week, Roberts seems to enjoy broad support in the Senate, which Republicans control, holding 55 of 100 seats.

No Senate Democrat has announced opposition, but a number of them have expressed concerns. Others have spoken glowingly of the Harvard- educated family man who has served the past two years as a federal appeals court judge.

''It's an uphill battle," Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman, said of the effort to persuade the Senate to reject Roberts.

''Some senators seem overcome by his attractiveness, his cute children, his attractive wife, his pleasant demeanor," Bond said in a brief interview. ''But the issue is his record, which raises grave concerns."

In recent weeks, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library has released tens of thousands of pages of documents stemming from Roberts's work in the administration's Justice Department.

Record indicate that Roberts embraced and pushed many of Reagan's most conservative efforts, which critics charged threatened decades of progress in civil rights and women's rights.

The Reagan Library announced yesterday that it is ready to release an additional 420 pages of documents that were withheld earlier.

It also scrambled to make public other records on Roberts discovered this week.

The National Archives ordered personnel from other presidential libraries to help the Reagan Library conduct needed reviews before these materials could be released.

''If these documents reveal significant information about Judge Roberts's views and we are not getting them until the eve of the hearings, there could well be a need for additional time to question the nominee," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who is on the Judiciary Committee.

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