The Case Against the Confirmation of John Ashcroft As Attorney General of the United States: Part II

After more than 40 judicial appointments, Ashcroft names a second woman.

In terms of Governor Ashcroft’s appointment of women to the state judiciary, it was reported in late 1988, when Ashcroft was about to start his second term and had just appointed Jean Hamilton to the state Court of Appeals, that Hamilton was only the second woman among at least 48 judicial appointments that Ashcroft had made. "Gov. Ashcroft Appoints Woman to St. Louis Appellate Bench," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 6, 1988. The head of the judiciary committee of the Women Lawyers Association in St. Louis said that the Association had "long urged Ashcroft . . . to appoint more women to judgeships." Id.

A study of Ashcroft’s judicial appointments reported on by the press in February 1989 stated that Missouri continued to be "one of the lowest states in the country in percentage of women judges." "Ashcroft is Ranked Last On Women as Key Aides," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 25, 1989. As noted above, Ashcroft appointed Ann K. Covington as the first woman on the state Supreme Court. In addition, as discussed below, he appointed an African American woman to the state bench in 1991. However, throughout Ashcroft’s tenure, observers remained critical of the lack of gender diversity in his appointments. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 3, 1993, May 26, 1991.

Ashcroft supporters have released a 1991 letter from an African American bar association thanking Ashcroft for appointing an African American woman to an appellate court post, stating that "there is still much that needs to be done to increase the number of minorities and women on the bench," and stating that the appointment and Ashcroft’s record in the area are "positive indicators of your progressive sense of fairness and equity." (Letter from Mound City Bar Assn. to Gov. Ashcroft, April 1, 1991.) Other Missourians, however, have criticized Ashcroft on this score. A former member of one judicial commission commented that the judicial selection process was "still a white male bastion." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1988. The head of the state black legislative caucus had met repeatedly with Governor Ashcroft, asking him to appoint more blacks to his Cabinet and staff but, as of May, 1988, he had "done absolutely nothing." Columbia Daily Tribune, May 24, 1988. The head of the National Association of Blacks Within Government noted in 1988 that there was one black member in Ashcroft’s cabinet, but that in "most offices in Jefferson City, it’s an ocean of whiteness." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 25,1988. And according to a recent memo from the Congressional Research Service, the best available information indicates that out of approximately 78 judicial appointments by Ashcroft, "roughly five of them were African Americans," a total of less than 7%. (Memo from Carol D. Davis, CRS Information Research Division, to Hon. William L. Clay, Jr., January 9, 2001.)

In 1989, Ashcroft appointed Donna Ransom White, an African American woman, to head the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, a Cabinet position. Ms. White replaced an African American man - Jerry Hunter - in the position. St. Joseph New-Press/Gazette, Dec. 14, 1989; News-Leader, Dec. 9, 1989. At the end of Ashcroft’s administration, Ms. White was the only woman serving in his Cabinet. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 3, 1993, Dec. 14, 1992.

One non-judicial appointment by Ashcroft was particularly controversial. In 1985, Governor Ashcroft nominated Springfield, Missouri newspaper columnist Joan Hart to the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, the agency responsible for enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The nomination provoked much criticism, since Hart had taken extreme right wing positions in her columns. For example, Hart opposed the ERA, and claimed that American women knew the ERA would "not provide equality, only enslavement to the feminist philosophy." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 27, 1985. She opposed abortion, favored prayer in public schools, supported elimination of Miranda warnings, and referred to "radical feminists and homosexuals" as "anti-family groups." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 27, 1985, Oct. 31, 1985; UPI, Oct. 26, 1985. She wrote that Rev. Jesse Jackson had a "lack of intelligence in believing the American people would ever consider him a viable candidate for any public office." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 27, 1985; ) Hart, who was described in the press as a "longtime friend of Ashcroft’s," was a county co-chair of Ashcroft’s gubernatorial campaign in 1984. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 27, 1985.; UPI, Oct. 26, 1985. Ashcroft said he was aware of Hart’s newspaper columns before he nominated her. Forty members of the state House of Representatives, including the majority floor leader, signed a petition opposing Hart’s confirmation. UPI, Jan 29, 1986. The state Senate ultimately confirmed Hart’s appointment.

Finally, observers noted that Governor Ashcroft left a definite personal legacy on the Missouri bench. Ashcroft’s appointments were considered relatively young and decidedly conservative. "More than any other governor," commented one law professor, "Ashcroft’s personal ideological interests are represented in his appointments." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1991.

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