WASHINGTON -- A black Missouri judge said yesterday that John Ashcroft "seriously distorted my record" to block the judge's appointment to a federal court in what Senate Democrats claimed was a bid for political gain.
"The question for the Senate is whether these misrepresentations are consistent with the fair play and justice you all would require of the U.S. attorney general," Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ashcroft, the nominee for attorney general, was a Missouri senator seeking re-election when he engineered the party-line 1999 defeat of the federal nomination for White, the first black judge on Missouri's highest court. That vote, the first defeat of a district court nomination on the Senate floor in 40 years, has become a focus of Democrats and civil rights groups opposed to Ashcroft's confirmation.
Republicans argued that Ashcroft had based his objections on legal disagreements with White, not politics or race.
On the third day of the hearings, which seem likely to lead to Ashcroft's confirmation, Democrats and Republicans called character witnesses and representatives from women's, civil rights, law enforcement and crime victims' groups.
With no sign of a break in Republican support for Ashcroft and one Democrat, Georgia's Zell Miller, committed to voting for him, opponents raised the possibility of a filibuster.
Ashcroft's sharpest critic, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., was considering that longshot move, which would force Ashcroft's backers to get 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate to put him in charge of the Justice Department.
Meantime, the White episode filled the old Senate Caucus Room with drama as the jurist recounted his rise from poverty, and then a former prosecutor graphically described a quadruple murder that led to one of White's most controversial opinions.
The child of teenage parents, White described growing up in segregated St. Louis in an unfinished basement with no bathroom or kitchen. He was bused to a school where white children "would throw milk and food at us and tell us to go back to where we came from."
"This racism only strengthened my determination. I was not going to let the color of my skin or ignorance or the hatefulness of others hold me back," he said.
Some civil rights groups accuse Ashcroft of racism. Democrats who served on the committee with Ashcroft have all denied he's a racist, though Sen. …