Without going any further back than this overview of John Ashcroft’s record during his just-completed term as a Senator, there is no question that Ashcroft’s extreme views on individual rights and liberties place him at the far right of his party and out of the mainstream of American belief.
On significant matters of individual rights and liberties, issues that routinely come before the Attorney General of the United States for enforcement policy decisions, John Ashcroft’s record demonstrates a lack of commitment to justice. During his six years in the United States Senate, John Ashcroft, time and again, sought to use the power of his office to undermine justice and derail individual rights. On issues of civil rights, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, environmental protection, gun safety and regulation, and more, Ashcroft’s positions have been consistent with the most extreme voices of the right wing. He has cast his lot among those seeking to thwart or dismantle the machinery of equal opportunity. He has favored turning individuals’ most private decisions about reproductive health – even on contraception – over to government regulation. He has sided with the polluters, the gun manufacturers, and big tobacco against the interests of the people.
Ashcroft has also shown himself willing to sacrifice the truth in service of a right-wing agenda. He engaged in a campaign of distortion to sabotage Judge Ronnie White’s nomination to a seat on the United States District Court and misled his Senate colleagues about Judge White’s record and views. He helped turn other judicial and Executive Branch nominations into ideological struggles, seeking to reject nominees such as David Satcher and Margaret Morrow under a right-wing litmus test. An elected official with John Ashcroft’s record of extremism should not be entrusted with the responsibility of helping to decide whether our next federal court judges and Supreme Court Justices are fair-minded individuals committed to the fundamental American principle of equal justice for all, or are ideologues chosen to advance a specific social and legal agenda. And John Ashcroft has shown a disturbing willingness to sacrifice even the Constitution in the interests of advancing right-wing causes, introducing or co-sponsoring more than half a dozen constitutional amendments in just six years.
The Attorney General is the principal enforcer of our civil rights laws and other federal laws, a person with enormous influence in determining whether our country will achieve its promise of equal justice for all. Yet John Ashcroft’s record in the Senate and his views suggest that his commitment is not to upholding the law and the Constitution but to making the law and the Constitution bend to right-wing ideology. Would an Attorney General Ashcroft commit his Justice Department to protecting the reproductive rights of women by enforcing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, when he has so vigorously and frequently espoused virtually unconditional opposition to abortion? Could an Ashcroft Justice Department be counted on to move equality of opportunity forward when he has demonstrated extraordinary indifference, if not outright hostility, to the rights of women and minorities? When a person is nominated for the position of Attorney General, there should be no doubt whether that person will engender public confidence that he or she will vigorously enforce these laws and see to it that they are invoked to achieve the purposes for which they were enacted. In the case of John Ashcroft, the doubts are overwhelming. And an elected official who in the late 20th Century would accept an honorary degree from Bob Jones University and heap praise upon a publication like Southern Partisan simply lacks the judgment and sensitivity required of the individual entrusted with the Office of Attorney General.
The Attorney General of the United States is one of the most important public officials in our nation, a person who has enormous power and influence over the lives of all Americans. This position requires a person of fairness, judgment, and integrity. It also requires sensitivity to those who have suffered discrimination, and a demonstrated commitment to achieving this nation’s promise of equality for all. The person who holds this position must be supremely well qualified for it. Americans deserve no less. His record in the Senate shows, however, that John Ashcroft is not that person.