The Attorney General's position, his responsibility for determining priorities for the Department of Justice, and his central role in determining administration positions on cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts give him a far-ranging impact on the lives of Americans, as the wide range of issues addressed above make clear.
Moreover, his role in helping to shape the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary could determine the degree to which Americans' constitutional and civil rights are protected or restricted over the first half of this century.
John Ashcroft's public record as a right-wing ideologue was clear when he was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His appointments, as well as his department's actions and inaction on a range of issues, demonstrate that he is committed to carrying out a right-wing legal agenda that could radically restrict Americans' rights and liberties as well as the ability of the federal government to protect those rights and liberties.
Former Senator Edward W. Brooke, R-Mass., once said, "A right without a remedy is like a bell without a clapper - hollow and empty." In short, John Ashcroft's Justice Department can make some legal rights effectively nonexistent, by choosing not to enforce remedies that protect them, and can make others literally nonexistent by helping fill the federal courts with judges that will overturn the legal and constitutional basis for protecting those rights.
By embracing the narrowest interpretation of critical laws, and by seeking out judicial nominees who will do the same, Ashcroft and the Bush administration can dramatically limit the kind of remedies available to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, Title VI and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education, the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as statutes protecting reproductive rights and environmental protections. The scope of the potential damage is nothing short of breathtaking.
In many ways, the Ashcroft Justice Department is just getting under way. We fervently hope that the actions taken by Ashcroft and his colleagues over the long run will prove us wrong about the direction of the Justice Department and the federal judiciary under John Ashcroft. But on the basis of what we have seen during the first six months, it is abundantly clear that Americans must continue to closely monitor the Department's actions and be prepared to fight them when necessary.