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Roberts on high court would be setback for liberties, professors say

WASHINGTON - Warning that the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, Jr., would jeopardize liberties protected by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 160 law professors from around the country urged the Senate to reject Judge Roberts.

In a letter yesterday to Sens. Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy, respectively the chairman and ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the law professors from 63 institutions said their opposition was based on Mr. Roberts' memos as a Reagan administration lawyer, the briefs he signed as deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration, and his rulings on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

That record, the letter said, suggests that Judge Roberts "holds a limited view of Congress' authority to enact key worker, civil rights, and environmental protections and a similarly narrow view of the vital role our courts and our government play in safeguarding individual rights, especially civil and women's rights."

At a press conference, Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University Law School said Mr. Roberts was "likely to be much more conservative than O'Connor" and could overturn narrow decisions upholding affirmative action, the right to privacy, and the separation of church and state.

Professor Chemerinsky compared Justice O'Connor's departure from the court with the 1987 retirement of moderate Justice Lewis Powell. The Senate rejected Judge Robert H. Bork, President Reagan's first nominee to replace Justice Powell, and the seat eventually went to the moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Mr. Chemerinksy was joined at the news conference by Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman, who predicted that the letter from "Law Professors Against John Roberts" would attract "many, many more" signatures as the Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination next week.

Signers included William Richman of the University of Toledo college of law and Anne N. Schroth of the University of Michigan law school.

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