- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

Edmund Burke said that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing." It will be a total injustice if left wing special interest groups are permitted to so distort the record and sully the name of former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft that they block his confirmation as President Bush's attorney general. Fair-minded people everywhere need to rally behind this able and decent man.

Mr. Ashcroft's record is impressive and his character impeccable. He is wonderfully equipped in temperament, judgment, and tough-mindedness to be America's top prosecutor and head of the Justice Department. The son and grandson of ministers, he is himself a deeply religious person.

Elected by the state of Missouri as attorney general, governor, and United States senator, Mr. Ashcroft is pre-eminently qualified to be attorney general. Not a hint of impropriety has blemished his long and distinguished record. As Missouri attorney general, he was elected president of the National Association of Attorneys General and given the association's highest award the Wyman Award by his fellow attorneys general.

In short, John Ashcroft is a man of high intelligence, high ethical standards, and the highest principles. He is deeply devoted to the principles of limited government, free enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility and strong families. That is exactly why he is being trashed by the radical left.

John Ashcroft is a principled conservative. But since the left cannot defeat him for his political philosophy, and cannot oppose him for his beliefs, it must savage him out of desperation. Thus, opponents are reaching into the grab bag of shopworn reasons racism and enmity toward women to reject this conservative nominee.

The racism label stems from Mr. Ashcroft's opposing Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, an African-American nominated as a federal judge. But 77 sheriffs also opposed Justice White's nomination. The reason had nothing to do with Justice White's race and everything to do with his record. Most notably, Justice White dissented in a death penalty case involving one of Missouri's most brutal mass murders.

The killer, James R. Johnson, gunned down five people a sheriff, another sheriff's wife, and three deputies. Only one victim survived. Johnson's main defense was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from Vietnam service. On appeal, Johnson attacked his lawyers' competence because certain evidence mounted as part of the PTSD defense had backfired. The Missouri Supreme Court, however, concluded that the evidence, including Johnson's confession, overwhelmingly supported his death sentence.

The court's opinion summarizes the gruesome facts: Johnson shot one victim in the back as he was leaving then came back moments later to finish the murder. He shot another victim through a window while she was sitting in a group of people. He shot another victim while he was leaving the police station. He shot his final victim in the back while she was climbing from her police car.

Justice White alone dissented. He would have awarded Johnson a new trial. No wonder Mr. Ashcroft and 77 sheriffs opposed Justice White's nomination to the federal bench. Such judicial activism and willingness to overturn the jury's verdict despite overwhelming evidence was rightly rejected.

The racism charge is also completely belied by Mr. Ashcroft's record. As governor, he named eight African-Americans to judgeships, including the first minority member of the Missouri Appeals Court. A local bar association praised Mr. Ashcroft's commitment to a bench that is as diverse as the population it serves. As senator, Mr. Ashcroft voted to confirm 26 of the 28 African-American judges nominated by President Clinton.

Mr. Ashcroft's character is being further assassinated because of his steadfast support for the sanctity of life and heartfelt opposition to the killing of unborn children. All pro-abortion groups are swarming against Mr. Ashcroft, saying he can't be trusted to uphold pro-abortion court rulings and laws. These radical special interests groups are smearing a man who has been committed always to enforcing the law evenhandedly.

Extremists committed to tearing Mr. Ashcroft down should pause to remember the Senate's role in reviewing the president's choice. Sen. Joseph Biden, now a leading Democratic opponent of his former Senate colleague, John Ashcroft, once observed that "the advise and consent responsibility of the Senate does not permit us to deprive the president of the United States from being able to appoint that person or persons who have a particular point of view unless it can be shown that their temperament does not fit the job, that they are morally incapable, or unqualified for the job or that they have committed crimes of moral turpitude." No one believes this of Mr. Ashcroft. In 1993, Republicans overwhelmingly supported Mr. Clinton's choice for attorney general, Janet Reno, despite her opposition to the death penalty.

Mr. Biden should remember his own words. He should call off the special interest, partisan attack dogs. Now. The president should have his choice for an attorney general who is pre-eminently qualified and who will enforce all laws evenhandedly.

John Ashcroft will clean up the Justice Department after eight years of scandal. He will recommend judges who interpret, not rewrite the law. Under John Ashcroft, we will have a Justice Department which does not look away, but looks to put criminals away. Under John Ashcroft, we will have a Justice Department which seeks cooperation with state and local officials rather than usurpation of state and local authority. Under John Ashcroft, we will have an attorney general who will adhere to the rule of law faithfully and enforces the rule of law fearlessly.

This son of a preacher-man is the right person, at the right time, for the right job. Let's get behind him so that the radical left cannot defeat him by savaging him. Now is the time for good men and women to speak up for what is right and for the Senate to confirm John Ashcroft as the next attorney general of the United States of America.

Charlie Condon is attorney general for South Carolina.

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