The Magazine

Ashcroft in the Crosshairs

The Borking machine is trained on a new target

Jan 15, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 17 • By MATTHEW REES
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P Syndicated columnist William Raspberry wrote that Ashcroft "opposed legislation to allow the gathering of racial statistics on traffic stops." Wrong. No legislation was ever voted on, and the Senate sub-committee Ashcroft chaired devoted a hearing to the subject, where he expressed support for such legislation.

P In an appearance on the Fox News Channel, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, spoke darkly of "allegations" that Ashcroft was "one of the only senators" who opposed legislation proposing to give Holocaust victims reparations. This was a nice try to tar Ashcroft with the anti-Semitic brush, but he did no such thing.

P Numerous articles have repeated the charge that Ronnie White, the Missouri supreme court judge Ashcroft opposed for a federal judgeship, dissented in death penalty cases with the same frequency as Ashcroft's five appointees to the same court. Not quite. White dissented in 11.8 percent of such cases, while none of Ashcroft's appointees dissented in more than 2.6 percent of the cases.

The White matter has become the piece de resistance for those dedicated to sinking Ashcroft. (Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice hysterically called Ashcroft's activity a "hate crime" carried out for "political gain.") Overlooked has been that Ashcroft was not alone in his opposition. Senate Republicans are a diverse lot, with moderates like Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jim Jeffords of Vermont breaking ranks almost daily. Yet every GOP senator voted against confirming White, suggesting Ashcroft had a persuasive case against him.

The ferocity of the anti-Ashcroft campaign notwithstanding, it's highly unlikely the Senate will vote down his nomination. A simple majority is all that's needed for confirmation, and no Republicans have indicated a willingness to oppose him (Susan Collins, another Maine moderate, went public with her support last week). And a number of Democrats have made soothing noises, including liberals like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone and moderates like John Breaux and Bob Torricelli. Ashcroft could also win the support of Joe Lieberman, his college classmate at Yale, who is said to be eager to renew his moderate credentials.

The only way Ashcroft could get knocked out would be for some personal scandal to erupt. That's unlikely. Not only does he not drink or smoke, he doesn't even dance. Now that's conservative.

Matthew Rees is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.