It was another disappointing week for those who want a complete picture of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. On Monday, the Reagan Presidential Library released 5,300 pages relating to Roberts’s service as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, but withheld 478. Just today, the Reagan Library (along with the National Archives) released an additional 38,000 pages of documents, but withheld nearly 2,000 more.
It’s a bit difficult to understand why. In both cases, the claim was that the documents fall under exemptions to the federal Freedom of Information Act. But it’s rarely explained which exemptions are used: of the original 478 pages withheld, 459 were said to fall under privacy exemptions (specifically, sections 6 and 7C). And while it’s hard to find a breakdown of the FOIA exemptions cited for the documents withheld today, we do know that privacy exemptions played a part.
But the administration has stated over and over and over again that John Roberts is a man who keeps his private life separate from his public roles: because he’s such a lawyer’s lawyer, they say, we shouldn’t think that his public actions give us insight into his private life. Scott McLellan summed it up best, when asked about the Roberts memos: “I think there’s a distinction between advocating on behalf of a client and someone’s personal views.”
But if Roberts is so good at separating public and private, why are we expected to believe that releasing these documents would violate his personal privacy? (Senator Leahy has expressed similar skepticism on this point.) Given what they’ve said, administration officials owe us an explanation of why, specifically, these documents deserve the privacy exemption.