Ashcroft Denounces `Judicial Despotism' by Federal Courts Senator at Forefront of Rising Anger

Article excerpt

Conservatives are mounting a new attack on federal judges, and Missouri's Sen. John D. Ashcroft is preparing to help lead the charge in Congress.

In a speech scheduled for delivery today, Ashcroft skewers the federal judiciary for a series of rulings that he says has usurped the power of Congress, state legislatures and voters.

"People's lives and fortunes (have) been relinquished to renegade judges, a robed, contemptuous intellectual elite," the first-term Republican says in remarks prepared for the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee. "Judicial despotism . . . stands like a behemoth over this great land." Ashcroft's complaints are a familiar echo of periodic Republican criticism of judicial "activism." As recently as last fall, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole criticized what he said were too-liberal judges appointed by President Bill Clinton. But there is a sudden sense of urgency to the criticism by many conservatives and by Ashcroft, the new chairman of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution who plans to have hearings on the subject this year. The growing discontent could stall the already slow speed with which the Senate has acted on Clinton's nominees to the federal bench. In his speech, Ashcroft gives several examples of what he says have been unwarranted intervention by judges: School desegregation: U.S. District Judge Russell Clark in Kansas City is the chief villain for critics of judicial activism for his 1987 order increasing property taxes to pay for a court-ordered desegregation program. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling without deciding whether a federal court could ever impose taxes. Five justices said Clark should have required the Kansas City School Board to levy taxes adequate to fund the desegregation plan and suspended state laws barring the board from doing so. Term limits: The Supreme Court recently threw out an Arkansas law limiting the terms of members of Congress. The court said the Constitution requires that any such action be initiated by Congress. Ashcroft is a strong supporter of term limits. Affirmative action: A judge in California recently voided that state's Proposition 209, which barred racial preferences in government hiring. The case is under appeal. Abortion: Ashcroft says that in affirming abortion rights, the Supreme Court has "challenged God's ability to mark when life begins and ends." Disgruntlement with courts spilled over into the House on Wednesday, when it voted 295-125 to support an Alabama judge who is defying orders to stop displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. The House resolution said the public display of the Ten Commandments in government offices and courthouses should be permitted. …