Ashcroft Says He Would Not Challenge
By NEIL A. LEWIS and DAVID JOHNSTON
Whore City, Jan. 17 — John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary
Committee today that, if
confirmed as attorney general, he would not seek any opportunities to challenge Roe v. Wade,
the Supreme Court's landmark ruling upholding abortion rights, a statement that momentarily
alarmed some of his supporters in the anti-abortion movement.
In his second day before the committee, Mr. Ashcroft, a former senator
of Missouri, faced stiff,
sometimes harsh, questioning from Democrats who challenged him on issues including abortion, gun
control and his record on civil rights.
Even so, Mr. Ashcroft received his first explicit pledge of support
from a Democratic senator today
when Zell Miller of Georgia said he would vote for his confirmation.
"Basically, I believe that a president should be able to select his own team," Senator Miller said.
And while Democratic senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Joseph R. Biden
Jr. of Delaware sharply
questioned Mr. Ashcroft today, both said they expected he would be confirmed.
During today's session, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois sharply
criticized Mr. Ashcroft for his
successful effort to block a black Missouri Supreme Court justice from appointment as a federal judge.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts demanded that Mr. Ashcroft apologize for saying that
gun owners needed their rights protected to prevent a tyrannical government in the United States. And
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York questioned whether Mr. Ashcroft could put aside his strong
anti-abortion views to enforce laws ensuring women the right to obtain an abortion.
Through it all, Mr. Ashcroft sought to remain calm.
No matter how stinging the question, he began his response with a variation
of "Thank you for your
question and your thinking on the matter."
It was in his exchange with Senator Schumer that he made what seemed
to be a pledge to leave
undisturbed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that first declared a woman's constitutional right to an
abortion. In response to a question, Mr. Ashcroft said he expected to take that position even if the
composition of the Supreme Court was to change in a way that might make the court more inclined to
In response to Mr. Schumer's questioning, Mr. Ashcroft said that the
Supreme Court had clearly
signaled the issue was settled and that the justices did not want to revisit the matter.
Mr. Ashcroft described the message sent by the court in many rulings
subsequent to 1973 as, We
don't want to be bothered with this.
Mr. Ashcroft's comments seem to go beyond his repeated assurances that
he would enforce the law
despite his opposition. Previous Republican administrations have said they were enforcing the law while
regularly petitioning the justices to overturn Roe, sometimes seeking opportunities in cases where it was
not a principal issue.
Mr. Schumer pointedly asked what Mr. Ashcroft would do if the solicitor
general — the Justice
Department official who represents the administration before the Supreme Court — told him that he or
she wanted to bring a case to overturn Roe.
Mr. Ashcroft replied: "Frankly, I think it is not wise to devalue the
credibility of the solicitor general in
taking things to the court which the court considered settled."
He added: "I just want to indicate that if you think I have changed
to believe that aborting unwanted
children is a good thing, I don't. But I know what it means to enforce the law, and I know what I
believe the law is here."
Jay Sekulow, a leading figure in the anti-abortion movement, said afterward
that Mr. Ashcroft's
remarks alarmed many people who oppose Roe. But Mr. Sekulow, who is chief counsel for the
American Center for Law and Justice, said he had spent the afternoon calming opponents of abortion,
reminding them that President-elect George W. Bush has said he does not think it is wise to seek to
overturn Roe, at least not until there is a wholesale change in public opinion.
"I think most of us accept that position," said Mr. Sekulow, who has
argued several major
anti-abortion cases before the Supreme Court.