Those who found the George W. Bush pill difficult enough to swallow will be gagging on his recent cabinet nominations. However, one man in particular is jagged enough to choke any rational American – John Ashcroft. Our president-elect, in all his infinite wisdom, chose to nominate the number-one pick of the Christian right for attorney general. In an attempt to refute concerns over his ability to uphold legislation that runs counter to his own ultraconservative values, Ashcroft assured the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that he understands the difference between enforcement and enactment of laws. But even if he knows the difference, can we trust that he will act accordingly?
John Ashcroft has an extensive political record. He served as Missouri attorney general for eight years, followed by two consecutive terms as the state’s governor. Ashcroft served one term as a U.S. senator, and then made history by losing to a dead Democrat in last year’s election. Undoubtedly, he has an impressive bipartisan track record. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Ashcroft for the past three days, it is apparent that he has significant support among both Republicans and Democrats.
The hearing’s opening day was lightened by an anecdotal tale about the time that John was nice enough to give two Democratic senators a ride home from Capitol Hill. Throughout the transcripts of Ashcroft’s confirmation, it is obvious that he belongs to a very exclusive political boys’ club – one that takes care of its own. And although it seems implausible that his confirmation will be derailed, the country should be seriously concerned by the responses he gave during this week’s hearing.
Ashcroft’s deeply religious views have peppered his constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. His ultraconservative values have drawn criticism from the NAACP, and from advocates of gay rights, gun control and a woman’s right to choose. Ashcroft strongly opposes abortion. Sen. Ted Kennedy went so far as to accuse Ashcroft of being of “the right-wing conspiracy” to dismantle Roe v. Wade. In fact, his views on abortion are so right-wing, he has suggested that fetuses should receive death certificates when they are aborted.
However, threats to challenge precedents like Roe v. Wade are not as concerning as Ashcroft’s potential effect on developing areas in the law. He may have been fairly uncontroversial in Missouri, but as U.S. attorney general, Ashcroft will need to uphold the Brady Gun Bill. He will need to address racial profiling, Affirmative Action and hate crime legislation; he will also need to take a position on the war on drugs and anti-trust prosecutions such as the Microsoft case. Where does Ashcroft stand on all these issues?
In his short time as U.S. senator, Ashcroft took a critical, conservative position on everything from gun control to Affirmative Action, from Roe v. Wade to FBI eavesdropping on e-mail sent to criminal suspects. He will need to address everything from drug treatment programs to executive orders protecting gay federal employees. These laws, and many more, will be under the control of the future attorney general.
The highest law enforcement position in the country must be filled by someone the nation implicitly trusts. Ashcroft’s divisive and blatantly discriminatory views may drive a wedge further into this country’s judicial system, depending upon which battles he chooses to fight. The nation blinked once and wound up with Dennis the Menace in the Oval Office. It would now be well-advised to monitor the actions of his Cabinet with greater vigilance.