The Top 10 Reasons to Reject John Ashcroft

It's not that he's pious. He's simply unfit to serve.

They won't find any illegal aliens in John Ashcroft's house -- and they certainly won't find sex or drunkenness on the outside -- but there's a much better reason for the U.S. Senate to reject his nomination for the post of attorney general.

He is unfit for the job.

Ashcroft as the nation's top enforcer of civil-rights laws is Mahatma Gandhi as secretary of war. It isn't merely that he's not the right person for the position: He's the polar opposite of the right person.

Confirmation hearings were set to begin Tuesday afternoon (as the RFT went to press) before the same Senate Judiciary Committee in which member Ashcroft got his biggest headlines attacking President Bill Clinton's nominees -- often viciously -- during his one term as Missouri senator. But irony isn't the reason for rejecting Ashcroft, and neither is conservatism.

This is about documented extremism on the most sensitive issues facing the attorney general. It's about intolerance. And it's about dishonesty.

Here are the top 10 reasons the Senate should reject Ashcroft's nomination:

1. Race matters, and Ashcroft is racially challenged. Ashcroft's first big political success came as state attorney general with his costly crusade against Missouri's voluntary-desegregation program (at the time considered a national model in education circles), a fight he continued throughout his tenure as governor. He showed similar passion in dismantling affirmative-action programs, to the point where he led the charge against Clinton nominee Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general solely because Lee supported such programs (see point 7). Ashcroft led public crusades against only four other Clinton nominees -- Henry Foster and David Satcher for surgeon general, Frederica Massiah-Jackson and Ronnie White for federal judgeships -- all of whom happened to be black. He has embraced racist groups and individuals, including Southern Partisan magazine and Bob Jones University (see point 10). He maintained virtually all-white staffs as governor and senator. His best defense: He "supported" 23 of Clinton's 26 black judicial nominees (who happened to be slam-dunk, virtually unanimous choices).

2. Sane gun-control policy matters, and Ashcroft is an NRA soldier. Ashcroft has long been a major client of the National Rifle Association, which last year gave $34,900 directly and a staggering $339,237 in independent expenditures to his unsuccessful Senate campaign. Why? Ashcroft has opposed a ban on assault weapons and a measure requiring safety locks on firearms. He favors having the FBI erase records it keeps on gun transactions immediately instead of holding them for future reference. Two years ago, he took the highly unusual step (for a senator) of immersing himself in a state issue when he led the failed charge for a ballot measure that would have almost unconditionally legalized concealed carrying of firearms in Missouri.

3. Women's reproductive rights matter, and Ashcroft would destroy them. Outlawing abortion has long been Ashcroft's signature issue, dating back to his days as state attorney general. But he isn't merely anti-choice. Ashcroft refused almost all state funding for family planning as governor, and as attorney general he sued Missouri nurses to stop them from distributing contraceptives. He was among a handful of senators to advocate outlawing much of what is currently legal birth control. He was one of just a few senators honored by the extremist American Life League, which opposes all abortions for any reason, and he has backed a constitutional amendment that would do the same. He also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.

4. Environmental laws matter, and Ashcroft would pollute their enforcement. Ashcroft compiled one of the Senate's worst environmental-voting records, according to the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters (which gave him a zero rating in five of his six years in the Senate). He favored lead mining near the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supported rolling back clean-water protections and opposed funding for enforcement of federal clean-air and -water laws. According to the Sierra Club, he voted to prevent the EPA from enforcing arsenic standards for drinking water and to allow mining companies to dump cyanide and other waste on public lands near their sites. And now he'll enforce laws protecting Mother Nature?

5. Campaign-finance reform matters, and Ashcroft has been for sale. Ashcroft's Victory Fund received $50,000 in campaign contributions from Schering-Plough, maker of the allergy drug Claritin, after which he was one of just nine senators to co-sponsor legislation to extend the company's patents that would have been worth $9.64 billion to the company (and $11 billion to the company overall). His spokesman said there was "no relationship" between the company's largesse and the senator's support for its legislation, just as Ashcroft would deny that the NRA's kindness has any influence on his actions. But don't expect these examples of Ashcroft's "candor" to trouble him in the glass house of the U.S. Senate: Liberal Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) struck up the same cozy friendship with Schering-Plough (based in his state), and almost all the others have their own instances of having had their votes purchased.

6. Independence matters, and Ashcroft is a fierce Republican Party loyalist. Throughout a 30-year career of holier-than-thou moralizing, there is no record of Ashcroft's publicly criticizing a fellow Republican for moral transgressions. Despite all his ad nauseam talk about the sanctity of family-values issues, they didn't rate a mention during morals-related scandals involving Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, Bob Barr or Helen Chenoweth. In Missouri, Ashcroft never criticized Attorney General William Webster, who went to federal prison on charges related to scandals that took place during the Ashcroft administration. Conversely, he led the pack in criticizing Clinton's morals.

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