A week before televised confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr., the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library said Tuesday that it had discovered a potentially large number of documents related to Roberts that had been inadvertently missed during previous searches of the nominee’s files.
The library, which earlier had acknowledged having misplaced a Roberts file on affirmative action that is still missing, said it would bring in extra researchers to expedite a review of the documents before the Senate hearings, which are to begin Tuesday.
The senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee called the late-hour finding “extremely disappointing.”
“This discovery comes late in this process and after requests from Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee for information on Judge Roberts’ record have been delayed and denied,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy.
“This administration has set an unsettling pattern of secrecy by slow-walking relevant documents and stonewalling a narrow request for key records.”
Leahy noted that the administration had denied Democrats’ requests for documents about Roberts’ government work in later years, and that a search continued for the affirmative action file.
“The Senate soon will decide on a lifetime appointment to our highest court, and we have only one chance to get it right,” Leahy said. “The hearings begin in less than a week. The remaining documents should be provided immediately and without any further delay.”
White House officials said the mistake was inadvertent and that library staff should be commended for their hard work.
“The Reagan library doesn’t deserve anybody’s criticism,” said White House spokesman Steve Schmidt. “They have done months’ worth of work in weeks.... Hopefully the unfair criticism of the library is not a prelude to a politically driven opposition.”
The library, near Simi Valley, said in a statement that the new documents were discovered through an electronic search on the library’s database using a numerical code that archivists had noticed on many documents from Roberts files. Originally, they had searched only under his name, which is standard procedure.
The search using Roberts’ numerical code brought up references to a “large volume” of new documents, the statement said. Library staff are reviewing those documents to see how many relate to Roberts.
The statement did not say how many documents or pages of documents turned up in the search, but it did say many were likely to be duplicates of the more than 50,000 pages of documents the library had already released. The material at the library is from Roberts’ years in the office of White House counsel in the early 1980s.
At least one committee Democrat warned that the discovery of the documents so close to the hearings could mean that Democrats would ask for a postponement. The hearings were scheduled so that a Senate confirmation vote could be held before the Supreme Court session opens Oct. 3.
“Everybody makes mistakes, but blame is not the point here; a thorough evaluation of the nominee’s views is,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “If these documents reveal significant information about Judge Roberts’ 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.”