Joh n Ashcroft had better hope one rule is not in force when the U.S.
considers his nomination as attorney general by President-elect George W. Bush.
That would be the Golden Rule.
More than any other venue, Ashcroft used the forum of Senate confirmation
hearings to act out
his political dark side, savaging presidential nominees for sport and political gain. In one
high-profile case after another, Ashcroft stood out among his peers as a conservative attack
dog, never afraid to besmirch a career or reputation.
As senator, Ashcroft zealously assailed nominees who didn't share his
views on abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty and the like. And he always showed a
special place in his heartlessness for African-American selections.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ashcroft gave no respect
to a president's
prerogative -- honored by most senators -- to appoint men and women ideologically compatible
with his administration. Instead, Ashcroft applied his Christian Coalition litmus tests and did so
gracelessly, with far more regard to headlines than civility.
Now that he's on the other side of the table, Ashcroft deserves to have
done unto him what he
has done to others.
Even a partial recollection of his political "hits" offers insight into
what sort of treatment that
*Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, rejected for a federal
judgeship (on a party-line
vote) after Ashcroft led a one-man smear campaign in which he labeled White "unfit" for the
judiciary and "soft on crime," ostensibly for voting to overturn some death sentences while on
the high court. White was appointed by the late Gov. Mel Carnahan as the first black justice
ever on the court.
Ashcroft's case against White was utter deceit. Even setting aside that
Ashcroft knew full well
that Supreme Court votes focus on the fairness of trials -- and aren't referenda on the death
penalty -- White's record didn't differ substantially from those of Ashcroft's own seven
appointees to the court.
*Bill Lann Lee, assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice
confirmation was blocked after a loud Ashcroft-sparked campaign assailing Lee for supporting
"Putting Bill Lann Lee in charge of enforcing the civil-rights laws
is seriously wrong because he
remains committed to racial preferences and quotas," said Ashcroft in a telling preview of how
he'd approach civil-rights issues as attorney general. "Mr. Lee persists in the belief that
Americans should be judged by the color of their skin in determining academic admissions,
public contracts and employment."
*Surgeon General David Satcher, approved on a 63-35 vote despite an
Ashcroft holy war over
Satcher's support of abortion rights and controversial AIDS research. Ashcroft's genteel
assessment of the nominee: "It's time for us to demand a surgeon general who will appeal to
the better angels of our nature, not bow to our basest desires."
*Henry Foster, a widely respected candidate for surgeon general whose
blocked in 1995 by Ashcroft and other Republicans, also over abortion. Ashcroft helped concoct
a phony issue regarding how much emphasis was given to abstinence in a teen-pregnancy
program headed by Foster. When he took the bait and tried to clarify his answers in writing,
Foster was vilified by the senator for being "less than forthcoming." Added an Ashcroft aide:
"Here is a man under oath who can't give a straight answer."
*Philadelphia City Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson, whose federal-judgeship
killed in a mean-spirited campaign led by Ashcroft. Like White, Massiah-Jackson was a
respected African-American judge rejected for the federal judiciary through intentional distortion
of her record, which Ashcroft and o0ther right-wingers deemed too liberal. Example: They
dredged up an instance, 15 years earlier, when, as a young judge, she lost her patience and
swore at a prosecutor.
"There can be no excuse for Senate approval of a judge who fails to
understand the proper
limits of judicial power or whose conduct is an embarrassment to judicial office," Ashcroft said
Of these five prime-time examples -- and it's by no means an exhaustive
list -- only Lee isn't an
African-American, and his "crime" was to have supported affirmative action, which Ashcroft has
always opposed. There is certainly a pattern here.
In the spirit with which Ashcroft has grilled so many others, he should
be called on to explain the
racially challenged politics (to put it nicely) with which he has pandered to the "basest desires"
(to borrow his phrase) of the political process. He should be expected to explain his careerlong
opposition to school integration, his statement that "we should all do more" to promote the
Confederacy, his honorary degree from Bob Jones University and his record of having a nearly
all-white staff and few key black appointments.
The Judiciary Committee should also wonder about how Ashcroft would
uphold the legal rights
of women to abortions, seeing as how he has long advocated criminalizing them. They might
also ask about enforcing the rights of gays, to whom he has been unfailingly hostile.
Should this guy be in the top law-enforcement position for civil rights
in America? Absolutely not.
Ashcroft has neither the tolerance nor the temperament for the job.
But should it matter that he's Bush choice and this is Bush's team?
Not if the Senate does unto him as he has done to others.