Missouri Senator John Ashcroft -- recently defeated by the late Governor Mel Carnahan -- is one of those observers held responsible for increasing the number of battles over judicial and other nominees. The arch-conservative senator furiously opposed President Clinton's appointments; often, he was one of the only senators fighting. Now George W. Bush has chosen Senator Ashcroft to be his attorney general, and it is Ashcroft who will face the confirmation process.
Ashcroft has not shied from bullying qualified nominees because their political leanings do not match his; sometimes he even fabricated charges with which to assault them. (Anthony Lewis writes that Ashcroft led the crusade against one judicial nominee, accusing him of having a "tremendous bent toward criminal activity" and a "serious bias against the death penalty" -- even though the judge had upheld 41 death penalty convictions.) The Christian conservative senator also attacked David Satcher's nomination for Surgeon General because he refused to support a ban on partial birth abortion if it did not include an exception for the life and health of the mother.
From his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ashcroft fought and stalled so many judicial nominees that observers have suspected Ashcroft of trying to help members of the ultra-conservative Judicial Selection Monitoring Project to sharply reduce President Clinton's impact on the judiciary. Clinton's critics planned to achieve their mission by holding open as many judicial slots as possible in the hopes that a Republican president could fill them after Clinton left office. Many charged that stalled appointments left so many judgeships unfilled that it has crippled the federal judiciary.
When liberals have nightmares, they dream of Senator Ashcroft. And it is not only Ashcroft's Judiciary Committee activities that distinguish him as a hardliner. He has done everything he can to make his version of biblical law the law of the land. Ashcroft pushed a proposal that would have forbidden states from providing welfare funds for the children of mothers who gave birth to them while on welfare; he also pushed to allow states to cut welfare entirely for recipients who tested positive for drugs. Ashcroft has fought protections for gays and lesbians. He opposes abortion at every turn, and even sponsored a bill that would have required parental consent for abortion and contraceptives.
When Ashcroft got wind of President Clinton's marital infidelity with Monica Lewinsky, he called on Clinton to resign in shame. He was also one of the Senate's impeachment pit bulls, ready to chomp down on Clinton with the harshest penalty. For those who break the law, Ashcroft has enthusiastically endorsed the death penalty.
Ashcroft is conservative fiscally as well as socially. So conservative, in fact, that he has frequently accused Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of being too liberal. Ashcroft attacked the Republican Senate leadership for not pushing hard enough for huge tax cuts. He has also pushed several proposals strongly opposed by labor unions and opposed an increase in the minimum wage. Along with Senator Jesse Helms, he has struggled to cut federal funding for the arts.
Gaining notoriety with his conservative antics, Ashcroft toyed with the idea of running for president in 2000. He hoped to clinch the Republican nomination with the support of Christian conservatives. As was clear when he decided not to run -- and has been made clearer with the closeness of this election -- Ashcroft is far too extreme for the American people.
With his moralistic background, Senator Ashcroft has certainly heard the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is time for the Democrats in the Senate to do unto Ashcroft as he has done to so many before him.