Some Bay Area civil rights leaders say U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts Jr.'s pro bono work for gay-rights activists doesn't slake their thirst to know more about his stances — a thirst most Americans share, a new poll claims.

Roberts did free, behind-the-scenes work for a gay-rights coalition that convinced the Supreme Court in 1996 to strike down a voter-approved Colorado law letting employers and landlords exclude gays from jobs and housing, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

"I think people on the radical right think people in the civil rights community have knee-jerk monolithic reactions to everything," mused Eva Paterson, president of the San Francisco-based Equal Justice Society, Thursday. "Actually, I admire John Roberts for doing this ... but that having been said, I look at his other records ... and I'm very alarmed."

Paterson said Roberts has interpreted the Voting Rights Act in a way that would make it harder for people of color to get fair representation, and he takes a dim view of the constitutional privacy right underpinning the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. He hasn't been supportive of the Endangered Species Act, affirmative action or federal courts' jurisdiction in civil rights areas such as school desegregation, she added.

So while his gay-rights work is "wonderful," she said, "his nomination is still very troubling."

Molly McKay of Oakland, field director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group Equality California, noted the Romer v.


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Evans decision that Roberts apparently helped win was the basis of a federal judge's decision in May to strike down Nebraska's state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Should that ruling survive appeals, it could guide gay-rights groups in other states with similar amendments, she said. California is expected to vote on an amendment in June.

So McKay said the gay-rights community is "cautiously optimistic" to hear of Roberts role, however small, in laying that groundwork.

"It gives you a quick little glimpse into the possibility of where he stands on the issue, but it's not conclusive by any stretch of the imagination," she said. "He doesn't have a real strong, solid record on how he'll rule on gay-rights cases, so we continue to want additional information."

The Alliance for Justice — a national coalition of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy groups — released poll results Thursday showing Americans want to know more, too.

The poll of 826 people, taken last Friday through Monday, found 68 percent believe the Senate should consider Roberts' stances on legal and constitutional issues, not just his qualifications and character; the same percentage said a careful review is more important than confirming him before the high court's next term starts in October.

The poll also showed 67 percent believe they have a right to know "where the nominee stands on important constitutional issues such as civil rights, the right to privacy and federal protections for the environment and workers;" 63 percent said it would be appropriate for senators to oppose Roberts' confirmation if he won't answer some such questions.

Also, 71 percent said the Senate should be given all documents related to Roberts' work as a deputy solicitor general; 62 percent said it would be appropriate for senators to oppose his confirmation if the White House continues refusing to provide the papers. The poll has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

"It's fair to say the public wants to err on the side of disclosure," said pollster Guy Molyneux of Peter D. Hart Research Associates. "They want to know a lot more about him than they know now."

Alliance founder and president Nan Aron said Roberts' pro bono gay-rights work "really doesn't" change her feeling that America needs to know more about him. "The picture is just beginning to emerge of his views but it's too early to make an overall assessment of his judicial philosophy."

IndependentCourt.org, a coalition of 75 liberal groups, has begun running national television ads demanding to know more about Roberts' stances and urging the White House to release more documents from his time in the Justice Department. The Committee for Justice, supporting Roberts' nomination, will counter with radio ads targeting about 10 states — not including California — represented by moderate Democratic senators. 

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.