John Ashcroft's First Year as Attorney General

Hypocrisy on "States' Rights"

Ashcroft has been a powerful advocate of "states' rights" throughout his career. But as attorney general he has intervened twice to take direct action to thwart the will of the voters on issues that were important to his right-wing constituencies of support.

In November 2001, Ashcroft issued an order that authorized federal agents to revoke the licenses of any doctor who prescribed lethal drugs for terminally ill patients, a direct challenge to a law passed by Oregon voters in 1994. The Death with Dignity Act made it legal for physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to any person with less than six months to live and who was mentally competent to make the decision to end their own life.83 Ashcroft has long been opposed to assisted suicide and, as a senator, led an effort to outlaw federal funding of the practice. While serving in the Senate, he made his opposition well known, calling the practice "perverse" and "morally contemptible."84 He voted in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a bill that would have made it illegal to prescribe federally-controlled drugs for assisted suicide.85

Despite the controversy surrounding the law, three years later a ballot measure to repeal it was rejected by the voters of Oregon, demonstrating that 60% of the state's citizens supported the law.86 The final outcome of the Oregon's controversy remains in doubt. Shortly after Ashcroft issued his edict, the state sued to block it. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones issued a temporary restraining order on Ashcroft's ban and gave the state and the Justice Department five months to prepare arguments in the case.87

Also in November 2001, federal authorities raided and closed a Los Angeles medical marijuana clinic. The clinic, which provided marijuana to ease the suffering of cancer and AIDS patients, operated under the terms of a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 1996. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to allow the federal government to revoke prescription drug licenses of California doctors who prescribe marijuana for their patients.88

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