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
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
The House resolution said the public display of the Ten
Commandments in government offices and courthouses should be