Published on Saturday, January 6, 2001
One Missouri Compromise Is Enough
Democrats Should Vote "No" On John Ashcroft
by Jesse Jackson Jr.
One Missouri Compromise in America's history is enough. There is an attempt by some members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to turn 'bipartisanship' into a code word for compromising on justice. That has not worked well and has led to tragedy in our history, and now must be resisted by rejecting John Ashcroft as Attorney General. We had a Missouri Compromise on justice in 1820, similar compromises in 1850 and 1877. We don't need another compromise on justice in the name of bipartisanship in 2001.
Republicans may vote to support former Senator Ashcroft. That's their right, their guy, he reflects their point of view and their social and political philosophy. And he may be confirmed as Attorney General of the United States -- but Democrats should not help put him there.
Democratic voters must focus their attention on Democrats in the Senate -- that's where our votes are invested -- and they should especially keep their eyes on conservative and southern Democrats. This is a Senate vote that must be 'scored' by all national civil rights, women's rights, abortion rights and justice-oriented organizations. And all Democrats must be held accountable at the polls in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 primary and general elections. Democratic party compromises on justice with respect to welfare reform, crime, corporate responsibility, tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich and corporations, the death penalty, NAFTA, GATT, WTO, PNTR for China, the World Bank and the IMF led to a third party candidacy that cost Democrats the White House in 2000. Democrats should not continue down this path of self-destruction.
Mr. Ashcroft's defenders say he's not a racist -- that he's a dedicated Christian, a lawyer, honest, smart and was an effective public servant as a Missouri Attorney General, Governor and Senator - and President-Elect Bush should be allowed his choice in a new administration. Those are all legitimate arguments, but there is another view. Obviously, I don't know what's in Mr. Ashcroft's heart and no one can measure his intent, but we can review his words and document his actions.
There is concern among those who need justice, not 'just ice,' from the Justice Department -- those who support a woman's right to choose, minorities and judicial nominees with whom Mr. Ashcroft disagrees. Our nation needs an Attorney General who will respect and aggressively enforce the law equally across the board, even if he disagrees with the law he is sworn to uphold. His words and his record are not reassuring.
According to his hometown paper -- among those who know him best -- Mr. Ashcroft built his political career on opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African-Americans for public office. As attorney general in the 1980s, he lobbied the Reagan Justice Department and helped persuade it to switch sides and oppose a broad school desegregation plan in St. Louis -- and he eventually succeeded.
In the early stages of negotiating a voluntary city-county school desegregation plan in St. Louis, he originally played a positive role. But soon he switched positions because Missouri would have to pay for it and because, he said, it represented judicial excess. He told the U.S. Supreme Court that he had 'little doubt' that 'a minority' would be treated better in court than in Missouri. He played politics with the issue and rode his opposition to the St. Louis desegregation plan into the governor's mansion. He ran a TV ad called "McFlip" accusing his Republican opponent Gene McNary of flip-flopping on desegregation -- which is credited with helping win a tough GOP primary in 1984.
Mr. Ashcroft's U.S. Senate record deepens concern over his attitude toward African-Americans. He first tried unsuccessfully to block the appointment of Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher. He scuttled the judicial nomination of Ronnie White of St. Louis. In 1998, he wrote a defense of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. in a neo-Confederate South Carolina magazine, Southern Partisan, where he said that 'traditionalists must do more' to defend Confederate leaders 'or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda' -- which raises a question of how Mr. Ashcroft can swear to uphold the Constitution and unite the country, while praising traitors who subverted the Constitution and created disunion. And, he accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University in 1999 -- the same racially and religiously intolerant institution that helped save candidate Bush's Republican nomination in South Carolina after John McCain temporarily derailed it in New Hampshire.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported: "Mr. Ashcroft's successful effort against Mr. White is especially troubling. He opposed Mr. White for having voted as a Missouri Supreme Court judge to overturn death sentences. Mr. Ashcroft neglected to mention that some of his own appointees had voted to overturn as many capital sentences. Retired Missouri Supreme Court Judge Charles Blackmar, a Republican appointee, criticized Mr. Ashcroft at the time, saying: 'The senator seems to take the attitude that any deviation is suspect, liberal, activist and I call this tampering with the judiciary because of the effect it might have in other states ... where judges, who might hope to be federal judges, feel a pressure to conform and to vote to sustain the death penalty'."
Mr. Bush said Friday that he was not worried about the White case because of Mr. Ashcroft's record of appointing African-Americans to the bench. In truth, Mr. Ashcroft had an abysmal record and never appointed a black Supreme Court judge.
Mr. Ashcroft favors the most extreme form of a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions. As state attorney general he filed an unsuccessful antitrust suit against the National Organization of Women because of its economic boycott against states that opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. More recently, he has opposed a strong federal hate crimes law and a bill to bar job discrimination against gays.
All of which raises the question:" the paper's editorial said, "Is John Ashcroft the person who should be in charge of the nation's civil rights enforcement? Is John Ashcroft the person to protect women who are harassed on their way into abortion clinics? Is John Ashcroft the right person to screen federal judges? In short, is John Ashcroft's commitment to equal justice deep enough to qualify him to be the nation's chief legal officer?"
I say emphatically, NO!. President-elect Bush said he was a uniter not a divider. The nomination of Mr. Ashcroft throws that claim, or Mr. Bush's judgment, into question. John Ashcroft is not from the 'uniter' school of thought. When he was running for President in 1998 he said, 'There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions.'
President-elect Bush says he is a 'compassionate conservative.' What does that mean? It seems to mean that he wants us to understand and believe what others say about him -- especially those in Texas and elsewhere who know him best -- that 'inside' he's a good man. It seems he wants us to judge him by what's in his heart, by what he intends -- but NOT on the basis of what he DOES or what EFFECT his policies may have on the American people.
Every defense attorney and every criminal I have ever heard wants the judge and jury to judge them and their client on the basis of what's in their heart; what their intent was -- not what they objectively DID. So, it turns out, George Bush's mantra of "compassionate conservatism" is the basis of every criminal defense in America.
Some have said that those of us who oppose President-elect Bush's Attorney General designate John Ashcroft should not be giving him so much hell. I say, to paraphrase another famous Missourian, 'We are simply telling the truth and they think it's hell'.
Jesse Jackson Jr represents the 2nd Congressional District of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. His website can be found at: http://jessejacksonjr.org