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

Preface: The Special Nature of the Office of Attorney General

The Attorney General is not simply the lawyer for the President, but also the lawyer for all the people of this country, a person with the power to affect, for good or ill, the lives of all Americans. As head of the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, among other things, is the principal enforcer of our nation's civil rights laws and is entrusted with guaranteeing justice for all Americans. The Attorney General is also responsible for the enforcement of immigration laws and for federal laws protecting women's reproductive freedom and the environment. In choosing which cases the Justice Department will take up, the Attorney General plays a critical role in determining whether our nation will keep its promise to all Americans of equal justice under the law or will abandon this goal in favor of a narrow, extremist, and exclusionary vision of justice.

The Justice Department also recommends nominees to the federal courts and plays a significant role in the screening and selection process to determine whether those nominees are fair-minded individuals committed to equal justice under law for all Americans or are ideologues chosen to advance a specific social and legal agenda. The Attorney General reviews proposed legislation and advises the President as to whether particular proposals violate the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Through the Office of the Solicitor General, the Attorney General also represents the United States before the Supreme Court, where he or she is in a position to advocate on behalf of or in opposition to individual rights and freedoms.

The person chosen to be Attorney General of the United States must be someone who has demonstrated the highest respect for the fundamental principles of equality under the law. The person confirmed to this critically important position must be committed to seeing to it that every American enjoys equal protection under the law and must be willing to pledge the power and resources at the Attorney General's command to the pursuit of equal justice.

And because of the Attorney General's unique powers and responsibilities as the nation's chief lawyer and prosecutor, he or she must also be a person beyond reproach, a person of integrity and judgment, and one with a temperament fit for this special position.

For these reasons, a high standard should be applied to the consideration of a nominee for Attorney General. The special nature of the Office of Attorney General should be of principal concern to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it considers Mr. Ashcroft's nomination. As former Solicitor General Archibald Cox stated during the Confirmation Hearings of Edwin Meese III fifteen years ago:

    Respect for the law, the fairness with which law is administered, is the foundation of a free society. The individual who becomes Attorney General can do more by his past record than his conduct in office to strengthen or erode confidence in the fairness, impartiality, integrity, freedom from taint of personal influence, in the administration of law.

Confirmation of Edwin Meese III: Hearings before the Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 99th Cong., 1st Sess. 450 (1985).

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