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

Racial Desegregation of Missouri Schools

Both as Attorney General and Governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft was well known as an opponent of school desegregation programs in St. Louis and Kansas City. Differences of legal and political opinion existed then and now on this subject, and such differences alone would not constitute significant grounds for opposing Ashcroft’s nomination. But Ashcroft’s conduct in Missouri went far beyond such differences of opinion. Ashcroft spent years and significant state resources in efforts to stymie voluntary St. Louis desegregation plans designed to enable city and suburban students and families to choose whether to participate on a completely voluntary basis. He repeatedly tried to delay and reverse court orders, and his arguments were rejected in three appeals to the Supreme Court. He was threatened with contempt of court and was criticized and rebuked by federal judges. His conduct was likened to the Southern "massive resistance" that had followed the Supreme Court’s decision more than two decades earlier in Brown v. Board of Education. Observers chastised him for exploiting his opposition to desegregation in his campaign for governor through rhetoric widely perceived as racially divisive. Even supporters and fellow Republicans criticized his tactics. And he failed completely to undertake meaningful efforts to solve the problems of state-created segregation, to resolve the litigation through negotiations or settlement, or to provide constructive leadership on the issue, all important qualities for a future U.S. Attorney General.

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