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Roberts Donated Help to Gay Rights Case

In 1996, activists won a landmark anti-bias ruling with the aid of the high court nominee.

August 04, 2005|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

He said he participated in a program sponsored by the National Assn. of Attorneys General to "help prepare representatives of state and local governments to argue before the Supreme Court." He said that several times a year he reviewed briefs in "selected cases" and met with state or local attorneys in moot court before their Supreme Court appearances.

He also said he had worked with high school and college students and teachers "studying the legal system and the Supreme Court." And he said he had "actively participated on a pro bono basis in efforts to achieve legal reform."

Roberts personally handled two pro bono cases.

In the first, Roberts was asked by Rehnquist -- for whom he previously had been a clerk -- to represent a man who had been convicted of Medicaid fraud, sentenced to prison and fined $5,000. The federal government also had filed a civil suit in the case and won a $130,000 judgment.

In U.S. vs. Halper, Roberts' first appearance before the high court, he argued that adding a civil penalty to a criminal one was double jeopardy and therefore unconstitutional.

In 1989, the court agreed unanimously. Eight years later the court reversed itself, again 9 to 0.

The second case was a Washington, D.C., welfare case that involved about 1,000 residents who lost benefits when the city cut programs amid a budget crisis.

Roberts, representing homeless people and others who could not work because of illness or injuries, argued before an appellate court that the city had erred in not first formally notifying recipients about the change in benefits.

The court ruled against him in December 1995 in one of Roberts' few appellate losses.

According to others who worked on the case, Roberts asked the court to reconsider, then appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case.

"Mr. Roberts was essentially the principal counsel," recalled R. Scott McNeilly, a staff lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "He was very involved."

When the welfare recipients lost in the courts, McNeilly said, most "were put out on the streets. They lost the money they were using to take the bus to see a social worker or money they were paying to a friend to sleep on his couch."

In the questionnaire, Roberts described them as "the neediest people" in Washington.

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