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I am writing this week’s column while on the road. I am currently leading a 10-day study tour of the Holy Land and having a wonderful time of fellowship, learning and worship with a group of 56 people. Jerry Falwell Ministries, with the assistance of Ducar Tours, has conducted several Holy Land tours in recent years.

When this exciting journey is completed, we will have visited the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Bethlehem, the Garden Tomb, Jericho, Masada, Galilee, Nazareth, Caesarea and many other significant biblical sites. Needless to say, we are having a great time here, learning about the life of Christ, His early ministry, the development of the New Testament Church and biblical prophecy.

However, even though I am very busy on this tour, I have not been too busy to keep up to date on all that is happening at home. I have been keeping in especially close contact with my staff over the contention surrounding President-elect Bush’s nomination of John Ashcroft to the post of U.S. attorney general.

Mr. Ashcroft, who has served as senator, governor and attorney general in Missouri, has been a long-time friend of mine. He has even spoken and sung at my Thomas Road Baptist Church. Mr. Ashcroft is a committed Christian and a trusted Republican leader who has dedicated his life to political service.

However, abortion-rights supporters, some civil-rights leaders and top Senate Democrats have charged that Mr. Ashcroft is the wrong choice to lead the U.S. Justice Department. In addition, civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson — always looking for a public spotlight — has said he will aggressively oppose Mr. Ashcroft’s confirmation. Whispers of racism and bigotry have been carelessly tossed around regarding Mr. Ashcroft’s nomination.

The primary reason for the left’s opposition to Mr. Ashcroft was his contention with President Clinton’s nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, the first black to serve on the state’s high court, as a federal judge. Mr. Ashcroft had opposed the 1999 White nomination because of Judge White’s lone dissents in death penalty cases.

The main focus of Mr. Ashcroft’s opposition was the case of killer James Johnson, who shot a sheriff’s deputy twice in the back after the deputy investigated a disturbance at Johnson’s home. As the deputy lay on the ground writhing in pain, Johnson walked up to the man and shot him in the head, killing him. Johnson then drove to the home of the sheriff and shot the sheriff’s wife five times while her family looked on. He continued to the home of another sheriff’s deputy, wounded him four times by shooting through the window, and later shot and killed two other deputies near the sheriff’s office before finally being captured.

When Johnson went to trial, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted and sentenced to die. However, on appeal to the state Supreme Court, only Judge Ronnie White wanted to overturn the conviction. He argued that Johnson’s attorney was incompetent in handling the killer’s insanity plea. Judge White said that Johnson’s killing rampage “was certainly something akin to madness.” Sen. Ashcroft, on the other hand, said this was no more than an excuse to give Johnson “another bite at the apple” to go before another jury.

Judge White’s support for the killer’s appeal caused Sen. Ashcroft — and many others — to oppose President Clinton’s nomination of the judge.

“There were 73 of the top law enforcement people in Missouri who felt that he should not have that position,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He added that Mr. Ashcroft also opposed the appointment of a black woman to the federal bench — opposition that had such bipartisan support that Mr. Clinton eventually withdrew her nomination. To say that John Ashcroft opposed these two individuals because of the color of their skin is reckless and without merit.

Mark R. Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, has called on Sen. Hatch to schedule testimony by the families of the victims of James Johnson, whose case is at the heart of the left’s charges of racism on Ashcroft’s part. That is an excellent idea and I hope Sen. Hatch takes note.

It should be noted that Sen. Ashcroft appointed the first black judge to one of Missouri’s appellate courts when he was governor of the state. And as a U.S. senator, Mr. Ashcroft voted to confirm 26 black judges to federal court positions. In addition, Mr. Ashcroft’s wife serves as a law professor at Howard University, a predominantly black university in Washington. This is hardly the personal account of an extremist lawmaker.

Amid the controversy, Mr. Ashcroft’s friends and colleagues have courageously defended him.

“I don’t think anybody in their right mind who knows John Ashcroft would say that he is biased in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Hatch said. He added, “He is a man of integrity. He is a man of great experience. I have no doubt, as a former attorney general and hopefully as this attorney general, he will enforce the law, regardless of whether he agrees with it or not.”

Senate Republican Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said he finds troubling “these racist types of comments that are coming out from some people. I think that’s wrong. There’s not a racist bone in John Ashcroft’s body. He’s an outstanding individual, and he’ll do a very good job as attorney general.”

Mr. Nickles said that it appears that some on the left simply want a fight following the defeat of Al Gore. “They want to have a big, divisive battle,” he said. “I think they’re picking on the wrong person with John Ashcroft.”

To accuse Mr. Ashcroft of racism or bigotry simply because he opposed the judicial nomination of a man who happened to be black is not only morally irresponsible, it is terribly dangerous. To crucify a man based on a sole controversy — and a fabricated one, at that — during his meritorious political career is nothing more than a continuation of the politics of personal destruction that the Democrats have embodied since the swearing in of Bill Clinton eight years ago.

In addition, Mr. Ashcroft’s pro-life record is being used to question his ability to serve as attorney general.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Mr. Ashcroft is “one of the five people in the United States Senate most off the mainstream. … Many who have such extreme pro-life views, as Sen. Ashcroft does, believe that [the law banning threats or violence at abortion clinics] should not be enforced and clinics should be shut down. …”

Because Mr. Ashcroft is a conservative and a friend of the unborn, he is being portrayed as insensitive, bigoted and a man without regard for the law. This is how modern-day Democrats conduct themselves. They habitually demonize their political opponents instead of waging an honest, constructive political battle.

I pray that John Ashcroft is confirmed to lead the U.S. Justice Department. I have no doubt that he will be an upright, respected and conscientious leader. After the reign of Janet Reno — who frequently turned a blind eye to the massive corruption surrounding her — Mr. Ashcroft’s tenure as attorney general will certainly be an exhilarating change of pace.

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