Selection of Ashcroft Draws Heated Criticism

Article excerpt

President-elect Bush's choice of former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft, a Pentecostal Christian, as the country's next attorney general is set to be the most fiercely contested cabinet appointment of the new administration. His selection to replace Janet Reno is being strongly opposed because of his past civil rights and abortion stances. Early criticism cited Ashcroft's faith only obliquely, as something that might give his approach an ideological fervor. Backers cited his faith as related to his reputation for integrity.

The opponents' complaints began with Ashcroft's part in helping thwart President Clinton's nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, the first black to serve on the state's high court, to a federal judgship, according to newspaper stories and TV news shows on New Year's Eve.

Ashcroft was "very unfair, very unjust" in charging White with being "pro-criminal" because of his reversal in one case, Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) told CBS's Face the Nation. But Levin also said he believes Ashcroft will be confirmed, though not before he is questioned closely by Democratic senators. Similarly, Senator Harry Reid (D., Nev.) told Fox News Sunday he knew of no reason why Ashcroft would be rejected.

To allegations of racial bias, Ashcroft's office has countered by noting he supported 23 of the 26 nominations of black judges that came up for a vote during his Senate tenure. While Missouri governor from 1985 to 1993, he signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and, among other things, established musician Scott Joplin's house as Missouri's only historic site honoring a black individual.

Liberal groups were not easing Up, however. Together with organized labor, civil rights groups planned to challenge Democratic senators at Martin Luther King Day celebrations this month, said Jesse Jackson. …