LOS ANGELES - On behalf of its 28,000 members, the ACLU of Southern California called on Senator Dianne Feinstein to oppose the nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General of the United States, citing the nominee's appalling record on civil liberties and civil rights during his tenure in elected office in Missouri and in the United States Senate.
Noting that the Attorney General is responsible for setting Justice Department policy on such vital issues as voting rights, civil rights, affirmative action, school prayer, vouchers, reproductive rights, habeas corpus reform and the execution of federal prisoners, the ACLU/SC decried President George W. Bush's attempt to fill the position with a nominee who has actively sought to roll back protections in these critical areas.
"As Senator, John Ashcroft carried out a radical anti-civil rights and civil liberties agenda," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU/SC. "He attacked privacy rights, reproductive rights, lesbian and gay rights, immigrant rights and the expansion of habeas corpus rights. He systematically opposed affirmative action programs and anti-discrimination protections. In short, Senator Ashcroft has dedicated his long political career to reversing the very laws he would be expected to prosecute as Attorney General. There is a fundamental conflict of interest here that cannot be resolved through a confirmation hearing conversion."
The ACLU-SC also observed that, if confirmed, the nominee would have ample opportunity to shape a judiciary hostile to civil rights and civil liberties, since the Attorney General wields great influence on nominations to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.
"Bear in mind that John Ashcroft led the fight against the nomination of Justice Ronnie White, the first African-American to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court, as federal district court judge," noted Ripston. "In the process, he willfully misrepresented Justice White's record. What you have here is a right-wing ideologue who will stop at nothing to achieve a judiciary that shares his agenda."
"The Attorney General is the nation's principal enforcer of federal civil rights laws," Ripston added. "The power of this office is enormous, and should not rest in the hands of a man who has shown himself in every other context to be hostile to civil rights and civil liberties."
Because the American Civil Liberties Union policy prohibits it from either supporting or opposing candidates for public office, with the possible exception of the U.S. Supreme Court, the National ACLU has refrained from taking a position on this cabinet appointment. However, the Southern California affiliate views the nomination of Senator Ashcroft to the position of Attorney General to be such an extreme threat to the cause of civil rights and civil liberties as to warrant calling on Senator Feinstein to oppose it. In taking this position, the ACLU of Southern California represents only itself and not the National ACLU or any other ACLU affiliate.