A much less publicized example raises further concerns about Ashcroft’s sensitivity towards minorities. In 1982, Attorney General Ashcroft’s office represented the state in a criminal appeal brought by a convicted burglar and rapist. On appeal, the defendant, an African American, argued that certain prospective jurors, all white, should have been stricken from the jury panel because of their responses to a question asking "How many people here over the past two years . . . heard a black man referred to as something other than a negro? . . . A nigger, a coon, or some other name. How many people have not? . . . Have not referred to a member of the negro race, black man, by another name. Either a joke or in conversation." Missouri v. Cowans, 643 S.W.2d 628, 631 (Ct. App. W.D. Mo. 1982). On appeal, in a brief bearing Attorney General Ashcroft’s name and that of one Assistant Attorney General, the state correctly pointed out that the question asked of the prospective jurors was ambiguous, in that it combined a person’s both having "heard" or "used" racial slurs, the former not being indicative of any bias on the part of the hearer.
However, the state’s brief did not stop there. Instead, it went on to assert: "Moreover, the mere use of another term for black or negro is not necessarily indicative of racial bias." Missouri v. Cowans, No. 32603 (Ct. App. Mo. W.D.), Respondent’s Brief, at 14. It is stating the obvious, however, to point out that the "terms" specifically used with the prospective jurors were not just "another term" for "black or negro" but some of the most offensive and pejorative language ever used to refer to African Americans. We do not know whether John Ashcroft reviewed every brief filed in his name by his office, but the fact that such an argument could be made in a legal brief written by his office demonstrates a lack of sensitivity toward racial minorities and failure to accord respect to all Americans that is disturbing indeed.