Ashcroft for Attorney General

By W. James Antle III
web posted January 8, 2001

Contrary to the weeping and gnashing of teeth emanating from the chattering class, John Ashcroft possesses the professional qualifications and personal integrity necessary to make a fine attorney general of the United States. In fact, he is uniquely qualified to fumigate the Clinton Justice Department and usher in a new era of respect for the rule of law. Nevertheless, the politically correct hordes have descended upon his nomination like locusts.

What could possibly make Ashcroft so unworthy to be attorney general? Is he inclined to send government troops to firebomb strange but peaceful religious sects in response to alleged non-capital crimes? Has he demonstrated a commitment to sending young children whose mothers died bringing them to our shores back into the clutches of communist dictatorships? Will he look the other way when corruption takes place in the administration he serves and circumvent the law accordingly?

John AshcroftNo, none of those things seem to disqualify one from heading our federal law-enforcement efforts. Ashcroft's offense is that he is a conservative Republican, and that is simply unacceptable, even in a Republican administration. Republicans don't belong in the Cabinet, you see, unless their name is Bill Cohen. Perhaps George W. Bush should demonstrate "bipartisanship" by carrying over half the Clinton Cabinet.

Ashcroft graduated with honors from Yale and received his JD from the prestigious University of Chicago Law School. He has served with distinction as attorney general and governor of Missouri and US senator. He was reelected to the governorship with 64 percent of the vote in 1988, the largest percentage since the Civil War. He won his Senate seat in 1994 with 60 percent of the vote, carrying all 114 counties in the state.

Polling data showed Ashcroft was likely to win reelection to his Senate seat in the 2000 election, despite a strong challenge from his successor in the Missouri governor's mansion, Democrat Mel Carnahan. Then tragedy struck and Carnahan was killed in a plane crash, too late for the Democrats to have him removed from the ballot and replaced. The acting governor promised to appoint Carnahan's widow, Jean, to the Senate seat if his ballot line received more votes than Ashcroft. On the wave of this sympathy vote, in addition to a constitutionally dubious (and quickly overturned) ruling that extended polling in Democratic St. Louis, Ashcroft was narrowly defeated.

Despite the legal challenges that could be raised against a dead man's constitutional qualifications for the Senate, not to mention the rogue court ruling that probably padded Democratic vote totals, Ashcroft graciously conceded. He thus spared Missouri a divisive post-election fight rather than preserve his own power.

Many of the arguments his opponents use against him actually buttress the case for Ashcroft as attorney general. He is attacked for his opposition to racial preferences, federal intrusions into education and various spendthrift programs. This indictment actually confirms his commitment to a color-blind society and constitutional government. He has a stellar Senate voting record in opposition to the federal government's involvement in areas where it lacks constitutional authority, even when it meant voting against popular measures like federal funds to hire more schoolteachers and the so-called "Patients' Bill of Rights." Constitutionalists among us prefer the original Bill of Rights, Tenth Amendment included.

Bill Lann Lee

The yeoman's work Ashcroft did in opposing Bill Lann Lee's appointment to head the civil rights division of the Clinton Justice Department had nothing to do with racism and everything to do with promoting equal justice under the law. Lee has proven himself to be a defender of quotas, hidden behind euphemisms like "goals and timetables." He has repeatedly and aggressively enforced coercive and discriminatory affirmative-action policies of the sort found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Ashcroft should be praised rather than condemned for his record of defending individual liberties against group rights and his unwillingness to sacrifice the Constitution to identity politics.

Instead, Ashcroft has been smeared by his political opponents as a racist and a bigot. One bit of evidence cited in support of Ashcroft's alleged racial animus his blocking the appointment of black Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White to a federal judgeship. Ashcroft's objections were based not on race but on White's established record of laxity toward criminal conduct. White has often been the lone dissenter in criminal cases pushing for acquittals and light sentences, particularly in capital cases. For this reason, White was opposed by 73 of the state's leading law-enforcement professionals as well. Sen. Ashcroft, pointing out that blacks are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, did not think criminals needed more allies on the federal bench.

Ashcroft already has a proven track record of enforcing anti-discrimination laws as Missouri attorney general that shows him to be no opponent of civil rights. As governor of Missouri, he signed the state's Martin Luther King holiday into law, appointed the first black woman to the state court of appeals and made Scott Joplin's home the first historical site in Missouri honoring a black person. He also initiated a scholarship in the name of black educator George Washington Carver and fought to save Lincoln University, a college founded by black soldiers. He encouraged President Reagan to convene a federal commission on the status of minorities in 1988, which would include Presidents Ford and Carter and Coretta Scott King. He then was one of two members who refused to endorse its report, due to its reliance on big-government solutions and neglect of minority progress and achievements.

Notwithstanding the propaganda about his opposition to Ronnie White, Ashcroft has supported 23 of 26 black judicial nominees during his Senate tenure - thus supporting black nominees at a 90 percent rate. His book Lessons from A Father to a Son contained an entire chapter on racial reconciliation. None of this seems to gain as much attention as his honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which has dropped its ban on interracial dating and marriage, or his interview with Southern Partisan magazine. Apparently we are supposed to pretend that the great Southern warriors of the Confederate army were not part of our history. This does a disservice to our own nation's secessionist past (that is, in essence, what we did in the American Revolution), as well as the blacks and slavery opponents on the Confederate side - the latter including Robert E. Lee.

Ashcroft's impeccable pro-life credentials have also made him the target of assault. Yet only 19 percent of the American people support totally unrestricted access to abortion and support for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand is as low as 6 percent. The rest of us believe the law should offer at least some protection for the unborn. Even many supporters of legal abortion concede that Roe v. Wade is bad constitutional law; must then an attorney general pledge fealty to it? The nation's longest-serving governor, Heath and Human Service Secretary-designate Tommy Thompson, has learned that some think so.

Whether the Senate Democrats extend collegiality to an old colleague from across the aisle or genuflect to the special interests that have captured their party will tell the tale about their preference for "bipartisanship." Similarly, whether moderate to liberal Republicans vote to confirm Ashcroft, their president's nominee, will tell us much about their party loyalty versus political expediency. Janet Reno was nominated in 1993 as a death penalty opponent who was liberal on many constitutional and prosecutorial issues. During her tenure, she has presided over the Waco inferno, the armed raid of the Gonzales home to repatriate Elian to Cuba and numerous Clinton-Gore abuses and obstructions of justice. She nevertheless was confirmed with the support of all 43 Republicans then in the Senate. Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson told her, "I am glad you are here." Orrin Hatch and even Strom Thurmond similarly sang her praises.

If the decent, principled and pious John Ashcroft does not receive the same courtesy, much less bipartisan support, as that woman, then we know what is in store for our constitutional republic - and it isn't pretty. Hopefully, he will be swiftly confirmed so that we can get on with the business of resuscitating constitutional law. ESR

W. James Antle III is a former researcher for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. You can e-mail comments to

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