President-elect George W. Bush's announcement that he will appoint
Sen. John Ashcroft to be his attorney general is good news for America.
Sen. Ashcroft is not only supremely qualified and a man of the highest
integrity, he has actually thought deep thoughts about the fundamentals
of freedom. In an ends-justify-the-means culture, when it is hip to
care more about a political agenda than about freedom, Sen. Ashcroft's
focus on deeper principles makes him more a statesman than a politician.
As chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, for
example, Sen. Ashcroft conducted unprecedented hearings in 1997 on
judicial activism, perhaps the biggest threat to self-government and
liberty. In a March 1997 speech analyzing the proper role of the
judiciary, he asked whether it could "still be said that citizens
control that which matters most" and concluded: "Our forefathers were
right when they warned against allowing judicial power to become like a
'boundless ocean.' A half-century of unbridled judicial activism has
made that danger clear to all but the intentionally ignorant."
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Those on the intentionally ignorant extremist left do not share such
views and, therefore, the self-proclaimed defenders of tolerance and
inclusion tell us these views must be excluded from public life. Not
surprisingly, they oppose the Ashcroft nomination. This is, of course,
part of their general strategy to undermine the Bush presidency, never
admitting that he won the election. Standards they demanded Republicans
follow when Bill Clinton was organizing his Cabinet are changing as
rapidly and as often as Palm Beach County's chad-counting policy.
Democratic senators might not want to buckle under the intentionally
ignorant extremist left. They say they want assurance that, as the
nation's top law enforcement official, Sen. Ashcroft will enforce even
laws he personally opposes. Fair enough. On the one hand, this demand
comes primarily from a political agenda; they want enforced such
unconstitutional laws as the ban on pro-life speech outside abortion
clinics. On the other hand, these same senators strongly supported
Attorney General Janet Reno, even voting
to re-appoint her, while condemning her refusal to enforce certain
laws. Bowing to their extremist friends here might thus raise hypocrisy
to new heights.
During 15 years as chief prosecutor in Florida's Dade County, Miss
Reno refused to prosecute obscenity. The Miami Herald reported in
September 1990 that she ignored petitions from hundreds of county
residents and child advocacy groups charging that "too many sex crimes
go unprosecuted." Hence the skepticism at the February 1993
announcement of her nomination to be attorney general when she said: "I
would like to use the law of this land to do everything I possibly can
to protect America's children from abuse and violence."
Despite those words, in a case titled Knox v. United States, Miss
Reno distorted "the law of this land" in a way that would remove
protection for America's children by narrowing the statutory definition
of child pornography. This took some effort because her new definition,
which made it tougher to prosecute child pornographers, was contrary to
what Congress intended and had never been used by prosecutors. Not only
that, her new definition actually changed mid-appeal the position taken
in that very case by the Bush Justice Department.
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The U.S. Court of Appeals twice rejected Miss Reno's argument. On
Nov. 4, 1993, the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 for a resolution stating that
her position "did not accurately reflect the intent of Congress." A
week later, even President Clinton himself wrote Miss Reno agreeing with
the Senate's position. On April 20, 1994, the U.S. House of
Representatives voted 426-3 for the same resolution rejecting Miss
Reno's attempt to change a law she apparently did not want to enforce.
Another example of an attorney general being similarly rebuked by all
three branches of government for selectively enforcing the law does not
exist. Yet in a re-run of her career in Florida, Miss Reno's Justice
Department has virtually stopped prosecuting obscenity altogether.
At least 28 Democratic senators who voted to rebuke Miss Reno for
selectively enforcing the law nonetheless supported her re-appointment
and will vote on Sen. Ashcroft's nomination. These senators know their
colleague's integrity and commitment to principle. They know he will
enforce the law fairly. Since they voted to re-appoint Miss Reno
despite her selective law enforcement, however, grilling Sen. Ashcroft
only to gain favor with the intentionally ignorant extremist left will
ring more than hollow.