Will Ashcroft's Extreme Views Shape Reading of Law?

In his home state of Missouri, voters elected a dead man rather than vote for John Ashcroft for senator. And the dead man won (former Governor Mel Carnahan, whose wife was appointed by the acting Governor to serve in her husband's place). Unfortunately for opponents of Ashcroft's right-wing positions, losing the Senate race made him available for the Bush cabinet, and Bush appointed him his Attorney-General designate.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York summarized the concerns of many when he asked, "Will Senator Ashcroft enforce the law of the land on things he is morally opposed to?" During his term as a senator, Ashcroft advocated a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He received an award from the American Life League, an organization that pickets abortion clinics. Reproductive rights advocates have expreseed concern that Ashcroft may encourage the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, and not prosecute anti-abotion militants who violate existing law.

During the Clinton impeachment process, Ashcroft reportedly made his fundraising sources available to Linda Tripp. Tripp was a prosecution witness, while as a senator, Ashcroft was in a sense a juror in the impeachment trial.

Ashcroft has also been criticized for allowing racial prejudice to influence his actions concerning the appointment of a judge in Missouri. At issue is the case of judge Ronnie White, first black member of the Missouri Supreme Court, who was under consideration for a position on the federal district court. Ashcroft campaigned against Judge White, accusing him of "a tremendous bent toward criminal activity." White's voted for the death penalty in 41 of 52 cases, and was endorsed by the Missouri police association. Ashcroft focused his campaign on a case in which White was the sole dissenter from the majority opinion. The defendant in the case, who was convicted of killing four people including three police officers, had demanded that the trial judge recuse himself because of racial bias. The judge was reported to have made remarks with racial overtones in explaining his conversion from the Democrat to Republican political party. Nan Aron of theAlliance for Justice has characterized Ashcroft's actions in the White matter as "a hate crimte"

Ashcroft has consistently opposed affirmative action, and was awarded an honorary degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which had banned interracial dating until recently. In an interview in 1998 he spoke glowingly about Southern Partisan magazine, which publishes articles defending the Confederate state that condoned slave-owning, and has labeled Abraham Lincoln a tyrant. Ironically, during the presidential campaign a Bush spokesman criticized a McCain consultant for contributing to the same magazine. In 1988 Ashcroft would not sign the final report of a 40-member civil rights commission of which he was a member, because the report proposed increased government aid to minorities.

While it's clear there will be a fight over Ashcroft's confirmation, observers expect him to be ulitmately confirmed. But his confirmation will hardly help promote the unity Bush claims he is seeking.


Borger, Julian. "Bush to force through divisive justice chief " Guardian Unlimited 3 Jan. 2001.

Rudin, Ken. "Advise and Consent" Washington Post 5 Jan. 2001.