WASHINGTON -- An alert this week from backers of Judge John Roberts cautions not to take seriously Democratic complaints that they cannot stop his confirmation. A three-page memo sent to thousands of conservatives across the country warns that the assault on President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee is yet to come. A major reason cited for this belief is the man back at Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's side on the Senate Judiciary Committee: James Flug.
"It is hard to fathom Mr. Flug coming back to Capitol Hill after 30 years of private practice for anything other than a bitterly tough confirmation fight," says the memo, signed by three prominent Roberts backers. That argument is based on Flug's 38-year intermittent history as Teddy Kennedy's gunslinger. Not contained in the memo is Flug's clandestine activity since his return investigating at least one Bush judicial nominee, Appellate Judge William Pryor.
The Kennedy-Flug partnership blocking confirmation of Republican judges dates back to the defeat of President Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominees G. Harrold Carswell and Clement F. Haynsworth. As Kennedy's rhetoric intensifies, the atmosphere leading up to next month's Roberts hearings feels like the eve of battle.
I had known Flug while he was a Kennedy aide in the late 1960s and in Kennedy's 1980 campaign for president. He returned my call last week, and I asked why Flug, now aged 66, would return to a job normally filled by somebody 30 years younger. When he learned what I was after, Flug broke off the conversation and said he would resume the next day if he could. He never did.
I did not even get a chance to ask him about the Pryor nomination, but I talked to several other sources. When Flug returned to Kennedy's staff two years ago, he was immersed in the Kennedy-led attempt to reject Bush judicial nominees. Alabama Attorney General Pryor, nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, was a principal target.
Documents concerning Pryor's fund-raising as founder of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) were leaked to Kennedy's office by a former RAGA secretary who took the documents without permission. Three sources, including one Senate aide, told me that Flug was the Kennedy staffer receiving the purloined material. The attempt to ambush Pryor was ruined when the plan was disclosed in a July 16, 2003, column in the Mobile Register by Quin Hillyer. Kennedy then accused Republicans of leaking confidential information. However, Pryor was one of three appellate nominees who this year was finally confirmed in the "Group of 14" agreement.