In what is becoming the most heated Cabinet approval fight in the Bush transition, John Ashcroft has been called anti-minority, anti-woman and a religious radical by opponents attempting to create the impression that the former Missouri senator’s confirmation as U.S. attorney general is in question.

Yet, truth be told, even senators suspected of being “on the fence” have publicly and confidently said they will support the president-elect’s choice.

One group leading the charge against Ashcroft’s confirmation is the non-profit, tax-exempt Alliance for Justice. The group’s president, Nan Aron, made the announcement Tuesday.

“Americans count on their Attorney General to enforce laws that provide equal opportunity to all Americans, including women, people of color, working people, and others who face discrimination. Throughout his career, John Ashcroft has shown time and again that he puts partisanship and petty political goals far above fairness and equal rights,” wrote Aron. “In nominating John Ashcroft, President-Elect George W. Bush made a mockery of his promise to unite the nation, and signaled a new era of hostility toward civil rights and civil liberties.”

AJF points to the senator’s opposition to African-American judicial nominee Ronnie White, calling it “vicious and baseless.” Because Ashcroft did not contradict statements made by his presiding judicial appointments in favor of White, Aron states that Ashcroft gave “the impression that he acknowledged his own appointees’ strong support of White’s (sic) and his clear qualification for the seat.”

Combine that with the fact that Ashcroft was running for reelection and desired a “tough on crime” image, his opposition to White’s confirmation in both the Judiciary Committee and Senate floor votes indicated he did so purely for political gain, AFJ claims. White was ultimately denied the post by a party line 54-45 Senate floor vote.

According to AFJ, Ashcroft “is not fit to hold the highest law enforcement position in the land.”

Yet the two-term Missouri governor and two-term state attorney general has been praised by observers as perhaps the most qualified of those considered for the job. During his years as Missouri’s attorney general, he was voted chairman of the bipartisan National Association of Attorneys General. And as Missouri’s governor, his fellow governors voted him to be their chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association.

As U.S. senator, he supported 26 of the 28 African-Americans nominated to the federal bench by the Clinton-Gore administration. Of the two nominees Ashcroft did not support, one was withdrawn and the other, White, was defeated.

Nevertheless, Ashcroft has been accused of being anti-minority. In his Village Voice column, James Ridgeway points to an interview in “Southern Partisan” magazine where the senator refers to slavery as a “perverted agenda” and says it was not the only reason the South fought in the Civil War.

Specifically, Ashcroft tells the magazine, “You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson, and Davis.” He continued, “Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

Asked how Ashcroft’s opposition to left-leaning judicial appointees who are also minorities pegs the senator as a “racist,” AFJ spokesman Scott Fairchild said, “Well, he certainly hasn’t done anything to prove otherwise.”

Yet in 1988, Gov. Ashcroft signed the Institutional Vandalism-Ethnic Intimidation Act into law. Among its many provisions, the law defined the crime of ethnic intimidation and provided protection from crimes motivated by race, color, religion or national origin. He was commended by the Mound City Bar Association of St. Louis, one of the oldest African-American bar associations, for his record of appointing minorities.

“Your appointment of [African-American] Attorney Hemphill,” the association wrote, “demonstrated your sensitivity, not only to professional qualifications, but also to the genuine need to have a bench that is as diverse as the population it serves. … [Y]our track record for appointing women and minorities, are certainly positive indicators of your progressive sense of fairness and equity. We commend you. …”

So, while AFJ and others criticize Ashcroft for his deeply held religious and political beliefs, his colleagues on both sides of the aisle say they have the utmost respect for him. At a recent meeting, the American Association of University Women circulated a list of seven purportedly undecided Republican senators being targeted by Ashcroft’s opponents and encouraged to vote against his confirmation. WorldNetDaily contacted each office to confirm the rumor, and all but two either went on record as a supporter or indicated they held Ashcroft in a positive light. The two offices excepted were closed and could not be contacted.

“Generally, Sen. Chafee believes in a president’s prerogative to choose his team,” said Jeff Neal, spokesman for Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will definitely vote for Ashcroft, said her spokeswoman. Collins, who identifies herself as strongly “pro-choice,” had a personal meeting with the senator last week and is “fully convinced” that he will “vigorously and forcefully uphold the law of the land,” said spokeswoman Felicia Knight.

Knight also noted she had heard the rumor of Collins’ possible defection, but that WND was the only media outlet contacting her office for confirmation.

Maine’s other senator, Olympia Snowe, told WND through a spokesperson that she “believes Ashcroft made a good senator, a good governor and is a good man.” Earlier this month, after meeting with Ashcroft, Snowe reportedly said, “I am confident that he will be a faithful steward of our nation’s laws as attorney general. He will not be creating laws. He will be charged with enforcing the laws of the land.”

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich will also support Ashcroft, said spokeswoman Sara Perkins.

Included in the AAUW list were the names of a few Democrats suspected of supporting Bush’s pick for chief law enforcer, including Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. His spokesman Barry Piatt, however, said the senator has not made any statements one way or the other and won’t make a decision until after hearings on the nomination.

Piatt went a bit further and said the senator’s “inclination is Sen. Ashcroft has a long record of public service and has undergone public scrutiny for a long time. Through his service in the Senate, he (Dorgan) believes he’s in a position to make a decision on his (Ashcroft’s) character, so he doesn’t expect there to be a problem.”

In fact, the only problem in the Ashcroft confirmation process could be the activity of tax-exempt organizations in their opposition to the senator. Such organizations are subject to strict restrictions on political activity. During the Clinton administration, dozens of non-profit groups were rigorously examined, and even audited, by the Internal Revenue Service after being critical of the Democrat administration.

Asked how the Alliance for Justice is able to engage in its political activity against Ashcroft when other organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, were heavily scrutinized by the IRS for similar activities, Fairchild replied, “I don’t want to talk about the Heritage Foundation.”

Attorney John Pomeranz, AFJ’s legal consultant for its non-profit advocacy, produced documentation indicating the group is allowed to lobby the Senate on an executive appointment. He acknowledged that IRS rules allow lobbying on a nomination “up to the limits on lobbying that apply for 501(c)(3)s.”

And just how far can a non-profit go with its lobbying activities?

“It is a matter of common-known law that non-profit 501( c)(3) organizations may not use a substantial portion of their resources to lobby any legislature. One court case in particular has defined ‘substantial’ to be as exceeding 5 percent,” said Brad Dacus, president of the non-profit Pacific Justice Institute. “It is not uncommon for organizations that are suspected of such violations to be reported to the IRS,” he added.

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