In addition to the inappropriate and disturbing manner in which he has dealt with the nominations of a number of minority and female nominees for Executive Branch and judicial positions, Senator Ashcroft’s votes on legislation pertaining to civil rights matters underscore his insensitivity to the rights of minorities and women and his lack of commitment to full equality for all, as do other actions that he has taken during his term in the Senate.
For example, Senator Ashcroft in 2000 voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have amended federal law to recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender and disability, as well as expanded federal jurisdiction over these and other hate crimes already covered under federal law. (Kennedy Amendment to S. 2549, 6/20/00, 57 Yes-42 No.)
In May 1999, Ashcroft delivered the commencement address at and accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. This school is infamous for its racially discriminatory policies and for the U.S. Supreme Court’s well-known 1983 decision upholding the revocation of the school’s tax-exempt status because of its policy of denying admission to applicants who have a spouse of a different race or who are known to advocate interracial marriage or dating. Apart from the school’s racial policies, the President of Bob Jones University, Bob Jones III, has called Catholicism a "cult." His father, former University President Bob Jones, Jr., has said that "The papacy is the religion of Antichrist and is a satanic system." As recently as March 2000, the school’s web site proclaimed, "We love the practicing Catholic and earnestly desire to see him accept the Christ of the Cross [and] leave the false system that has enslaved his soul. . ." St. Louis Riverfront Times (March 1, 2000).
In 1998, Ashcroft was interviewed in the magazine Southern Partisan, which caters to a small group of neo-Confederate southerners and has been a major forum for neo-Confederate views, including the recurring theme that slavery was beneficial to the slaves. In his interview, Ashcroft praised the magazine for "help[ing] to set the record straight" against what he called "attacks the [historical] revisionists have brought against our founders." Southern Partisan, at 28 (2d Quarter 1998). Adding more praise, he said, "You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda." Id.
The magazine that Ashcroft so praised for its "heritage" and defense of "Southern patriots" has a long history of publishing racially insensitive views. For example, in 1983, Editor-in-Chief Richard Quinn wrote:
- [M]assive evidence suggests that slave families were rarely separated. Efforts were made uniformly across the South to keep families together (in part because good morale was good for business). The record also shows that many freed slaves stayed South, kept close ties with their former owners and found for themselves a life altogether more satisfying than their cousins who ended up sleeping with rats in Harlem...
Southern Partisan, at 5 (Spring Issue 1983). More recently, in 1996 a Southern Partisan reviewer wrote of a book on slavery: "The greatest contribution of this work is that it exonerates slave owners by stating that they did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness in order to promote efficient work." Southern Partisan, at 51 (1st Quarter 1996). Southern Partisan’s merchandising operation, the "Southern Partisan General Store," has offered a T-shirt celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The T-shirt bore the likeness of President Lincoln along with the legend "Sic Semper Tyrannis" ("thus always to tyrants"), the words shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln. During the 2000 presidential campaign, when it was revealed that Richard Quinn, a top adviser to Senator John McCain in South Carolina, was also the Editor-in-Chief of Southern Partisan, George W. Bush’s campaign spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, reacted by calling Quinn’s writings "offensive." The Washington Post (Feb. 18, 2000).
In 1998, Ashcroft told CBS that he agreed with Senator Trent Lott’s statement that homosexuality is a sin. Ashcroft charged that "in terms of public policy, the Democratic Party has an agenda of providing a special setting and special rights for homosexuals. I don’t believe we should have special rights there." The Hotline (July 6, 1998). And despite broad public support for ending employment discrimination against gay men and lesbians, Senator Ashcroft in 1996 voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would have prohibited workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. (S. 2056, 9/10/96, 49Y-50N.)
Ashcroft also voted against moderating a Helms Amendment to the Ryan White Reauthorization bill, which authorized new funds for AIDS research. The moderating amendment, proposed by Senator Nancy Kassebaum, prohibited funds from being used to directly promote or encourage intravenous drug use, but clarified that funding was available for medical treatment and support services for individuals infected with HIV. Despite the potentially serious harm to people with AIDS that could have resulted, Ashcroft was one of only 23 Senators to oppose the Kassebaum provision. (Approved 76-23, 7/27/95.)
Ashcroft vigorously opposed any form of affirmative action as well as other anti-discrimination programs. In 1998, Ashcroft was one of 37 Senators to vote in support of an effort to eliminate the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, which requires recipients of federal transportation money to have affirmative action programs for women and people of color. (RCV# 23, 3/6/98.) Ashcroft also voted to weaken the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a federal law that has been important in efforts to promote economic opportunity and economic growth in low-income neighborhoods by discouraging banks from "redlining" minority areas in inner cities. Ashcroft voted against a motion to table (kill) an amendment that would have exempted banks with assets of less than $250 million from the Act. The CRA requires federal regulators to consider a bank's lending record to all areas in the community it serves when deciding whether to allow a branch, merger or other endeavor. Despite Ashcroft’s minority views, the motion was approved. (Motion agreed to 59-39, 7/28/98, H.R. 1151, RCV# 238.)