- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

John Ashcroft told his Senate inquisitors yesterday that the Bush administration will not try to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that abortion is a constitutional right, even if the court's makeup makes it possible.
"I don't think it's the agenda of the president-elect of the United States to seek an opportunity to overturn Roe," Mr. Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"As his attorney general, I don't think it could be my agenda to seek an opportunity to overturn Roe."
On the second day of his contentious nomination hearing, Mr. Ashcroft pledged to committee Democrats that he would "aggressively" enforce buffer zones at abortion clinics and faithfully carry out the federal ban on assault weapons.
He even expressed skepticism that the Second Amendment is an unlimited right to bear arms and said that had he been living in 1861 he would have fought "with Ulysses S. Grant."
Nevertheless, his measured defense of his record seemed to further agitate Democrats on the committee.
He offered his fealty to the Union Army when Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, accused Mr. Ashcroft of granting an interview to a magazine that reveres the traditions of the antebellum South.
"Slavery is abhorrent," Mr. Ashcroft said.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and temporary committee chairman, accused Mr. Ashcroft of bias for blocking the nomination of James C. Hormel, a homosexual, to become ambassador to Luxembourg.
"Did you block his nomination because he's gay?" Mr. Leahy asked.
"I did not," Mr. Ashcroft said. "I didn't think he would effectively represent the United States."
Mr. Ashcroft concluded his testimony last night, although liberal groups opposed to his nomination will testify through the week.
The former Missouri senator was one of five Cabinet-level nominees to have a confirmation hearing yesterday. George W. Bush's picks to head the departments of State, Treasury and HUD, and the Environmental Protection Agency, in stark contrast to Mr. Ashcroft, had easy, noncombative hearings.
Despite the nominee's strenuous attempts to satisfy Democrats, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, threatened to wage a filibuster against Mr. Ashcroft on the Senate floor.
"I will on the floor … take as much time as necessary," said Mr. Kennedy, his ample jowls shaking with agitation. "And it may take some time to debate [Mr. Ashcroft's qualifications]."
Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, said a filibuster by Democrats would be "one of the most egregious acts ever of this Senate."
Despite the bluster, two more committee Democrats Mr. Biden and Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin conceded yesterday that Mr. Ashcroft is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate.
"You're probably going to be the attorney general," Mr. Biden told Mr. Ashcroft.
The nominee received support yesterday from his friend of 30 years, former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri.
"When he tells this committee and tells our country that he is going to enforce the law, so help him God, John Ashcroft means that," Mr. Danforth said.
Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia yesterday became the first Democrat to say publicly that he will vote to confirm Mr. Ashcroft.
"I would not vote to confirm someone who I thought was a bigot or would hamper the cause of African-Americans," said Mr. Miller, who is not on the panel, in a statement. "I believe him when he says he will … enforce the laws of this land, even those he disagrees with."
And Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who often votes with Democrats, told the committee: "I have absolutely no doubt that John will fully and vigorously enforce the laws of the United States, regardless of his personal views."
Abortion dominated the hearing yesterday as Democrats pressed Mr. Ashcroft, who is emphatically pro-life and the son of a minister of the Assemblies of God church, a Pentecostal group.
Mr. Bush, who also opposes unlimited abortion rights, nevertheless said in the campaign he would not use a pro-life "litmus test" to choose Supreme Court nominees.
Mr. Ashcroft went further yesterday when, under questioning by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, he said he would not bring an abortion test case to the Supreme Court even if the Court's political makeup shifted to make a reversal likely.
"I don't think it's the agenda of this administration to do that, and as attorney general it wouldn't be my job to try and alter the position of this administration," he said. Nor, he said, would he impose a pro-life litmus test on Supreme Court nominees.
Asked whether he would advise the administration to end to federal funding for stem-cell research, which uses human embryos, Mr. Ashcroft replied: "I will be law-oriented, and not results-oriented. I will provide my best advice regarding the law, including the law as expressed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade."
David O'Steen, National Right to Life Committee executive director, noted that Mr. Ashcroft was giving "simply his opinion" in areas where the final decision will fall to Mr. Bush. "We have total confidence in George W. Bush."
The most contentious moment on a day of considerable partisan rancor came when Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, criticized Mr. Kennedy by name rare in Senate proceedings for "distorting" Mr. Ashcroft's record on school desegregation and minority voter registration in Missouri.
Mr. Kyl in particular said it was "unfair" of Mr. Kennedy to call the nominee "out of the mainstream" for remarking that citizens had the right to bear arms against government "tyranny."
"I suggest it may say more about Senator Kennedy's locus in the spectrum of American public opinion," Mr. Kyl said.
Moments later, Mr. Kennedy fired back, at times staring down Mr. Kyl.
"This is a condemnation of the messenger," Mr. Kennedy said. "I think this nominee owes an apology to the people of the United States for that insinuation, talking about our government now being the source of tyrannical oppression. That's what I think, senator. I don't retreat. I don't retreat on any one of those matters."
Mr. Kyl replied in even tones, "I'm concerned here about mischaracterization."
Mr. Ashcroft offered a more detailed defense yesterday of his rejection in 1999 of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, who had been nominated to a seat on the federal bench. Several liberal groups accused Mr. Ashcroft of racism because Justice White is black.
Mr. Ashcroft said he was particularly troubled by a case in which Justice White voted to grant a new trial to a white man convicted of killing four persons, including three law enforcement officers. The justice said the killer's lawyers were ineffective; they had failed to prove a theory that the defendant suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"It's an inadequate point to overturn a guilty verdict for four murders," Mr. Ashcroft said.
When Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, challenged him, Mr. Ashcroft said: "I believe mere incompetency of counsel without any showing of any error or prejudice in the trial against the defendant does not mean that the case should be overturned."
"We should show that the mistake at trial made a difference, or was very likely to make a difference. And there is a standard such in the law of the state of Missouri, and there is such a standard in the law of the United States of America. And it's pretty clear that that standard was something that Judge White thought simply should be swept aside.
"Now, a consequence of ruling as Judge White would have ruled in that case was this: If you and your attorney concoct a lie and it succeeds, you win. But if you and your attorney concoct a lie and it fails, it's incompetency in your counsel, and you lose, but you get a new trial. I think we have to look at the result of these cases."
Of his interview in Southern Partisan, which Mr. Biden called "a racist neo-Confederate" publication, Mr. Ashcroft defended his statement that Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, regarded as icons throughout the South and widely admired elsewhere, were "Southern patriots."
"This Congress has acted to restore the citizenship of Robert E. Lee," Mr. Ashcroft said. "And there are a series of members of this panel that voted in favor of restoring the citizenship of Robert E. Lee. And at the time they did so, they said the entire nation has long recognized the outstanding virtues of courage, patriotism and selfless devotion to the duty of General Robert E. Lee."

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