- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft gained important allies in his battle for confirmation yesterday as Jean Carnahan, the widow of his campaign rival, and a black man he had appointed to the Missouri Cabinet decried charges of racial insensitivity.

Mrs. Carnahan, who was appointed to the seat after her late husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, defeated Mr. Ashcroft in November, said she never perceived any racial animosity by Mr. Ashcroft when he voted against confirming state Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White to a federal judgeship.

"I've never felt he was racially biased," Mrs. Carnahan said in a Fox News Channel interview. "I don't know what was in his heart that caused him to vote the way he did over the Ronnie White issue, but I'm not convinced it was racial."

Republicans have pointed out for days that Mr. Ashcroft has promoted black causes and nominees for office while governor of Missouri and a U.S. senator, and one of those appointees came to Mr. Ashcroft's defense yesterday.

Jerry Hunter, who served as Mr. Ashcroft's secretary of labor when he was governor, told Fox yesterday that attacks against Mr. Ashcroft as racially insensitive were unfounded.

"Unfortunately, it's character assassination," Mr. Hunter said. "I can tell you, based on my experience with Governor Ashcroft and years since he left the governorship, he was certainly concerned about issues concerning the minority community."

Long before the current attacks on Mr. Ashcroft's nomination from groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, one of the country's oldest black bar associations praised Mr. Ashcroft for demonstrating "sensitivity" with the number of blacks and women he appointed to judgeships and other state posts.

After Mr. Ashcroft appointed Sandra Farragut Hemphill to a state court judgeship in 1991, the Mound City Bar Association of St. Louis said he had showed "sensitivity, not only to professional qualifications, but also to the genuine need to have a bench that is as diverse as the population it serves."

The group said his commitment to diversity and "track record for appointing women and minorities are certainly positive indicators of your progressive sense of fairness and equity."

Mrs. Hemphill became the first black woman to sit on Missouri's 21st Judicial Circuit, which serves St. Louis.

As governor, Mr. Ashcroft also named Ferdinand Gaitan as the first black judge to sit on Missouri's second-highest court of appeals and supported his later appointment as U.S. district court judge for western Missouri.

He also led an effort to preserve the independence of Lincoln University, which was founded in 1866 in Jefferson City, Mo., by black soldiers who served in the Union army during the Civil War.

Jay Parker, president of the Lincoln Institute, a black public policy group dedicated to individual freedom and limited government, said in an interview with The Washington Times yesterday that he remembers Mr. Ashcroft as mixing well with blacks.

"When John Danforth was attorney general [of Missouri], Clarence Thomas, Kit Bond, and John Ashcroft were assistant attorney generals," said Mr. Parker, who is black. "That shows you the company he was in."

Mr. Danforth also is a former governor and U.S. senator from Missouri. Mr. Thomas is now an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Mr. Bond, also a former governor of Missouri, is the state's senior senator.

Besides appointing blacks to top state position, Mr. Ashcroft also signed a bill to make Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday, and he led an effort to turn black musician Scott Joplin's house into a public museum, Mr. Parker said.

As a senator in 1994, with Republicans taking both houses of Congress, Mr. Ashcroft chose to serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and become chairman of the panel's Africa subcommittee, staff aides said.

"As a strongly committed Christian, he said one of the major problems facing this nation was race relations, and he wanted to address that issue," said a Republican aide who asked not to be named.

Mr. Ashcroft and the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, worked together to promote the Africa trade bill, which passed both houses of Congress last May.

They also forged a bill to collect statistics on racial profiling, which Mr. Ashcroft deemed unconstitutional.

In an statement Jan. 3, Mr. Feingold termed Mr. Ashcroft "a respected public servant with a fine legal mind to be attorney general of the United States … We have often disagreed, but always in an atmosphere of trust and mutual desire to do the right thing for the American people."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold the confirmation hearings, also repudiated the racial attacks.

"I know Senator Ashcroft. He does not have a discriminatory bone in his body," he said.

Several liberal groups announced yesterday that they would form a coalition to oppose Mr. Ashcroft's Senate confirmation.

The groups cited Mr. Ashcroft's conservative record, calling him "far-right" and "extremist," and his opposition to Justice White, who was defeated for Senate confirmation 54-45 in 1999.

A spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat, said yesterday that Justice White agreed in a conversation with Mr. Leahy yesterday to testify in the confirmation hearings.

Hearings will start Tuesday and last several days, with Justice White's testimony planned for Thursday, said spokesman David Carle.

Mr. Ashcroft told the Senate in a speech against confirmation that Justice White was "pro-criminal and activist, with a slant toward criminals and defendants against prosecutors."

He said he based his stand on Justice White's opposition to the death penalty in a number of cases, particularly his dissent against upholding the multiple-murder conviction of James R. Johnson.

Johnson, who has been on death row for almost a decade, gunned down a deputy sheriff who came to his home in December 1991 on a domestic violence complaint.

He then went on a spree to kill police officers and their relatives throughout the area, killing a sheriff from a neighboring county and a deputy sheriff and shooting a sheriff's wife through the window of her home in front of her family.

In his dissent against upholding the conviction, Justice White questioned "what Mr. Johnson's mental status was on that night."

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