There are two questions that have not been asked about the post election Clinton Administration and the Bush nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General.
First, why does Ashcroft want the job? In over 20 years, as Missouri State Attorney General, Missouri Governor and U.S. Senator, he has fought against numerous laws that, as U.S. Attorney General, he would have to swear to enforce. At his Senate confirmation hearings, he declared that he accepted Roe v. Wade “as the settled law of the land,” that he would aggressively enforce the civil rights laws and the ban on assault weapons. The New York Times noted “Mr. Ashcroft’s history of opposition and code-worded condemnation of those whose color, sexual preference, religious views and attitude toward abortions differ from his own.”
The Justice Department has to enforce environmental, labor antitrust and corporate crime laws that the corporatist Ashcroft has little enthusiasm for, given his past record, remarks and indifference.
Moreover, the Justice Department has kept hands off the state common law of torts, with few exceptions, while Ashcroft has been pushing for Congress to enact “tort deform” legislation that wouldfederally pre-empt and weaken state laws that give wrongfully injured people rights to bring their perpetrators to civil justice.
Mr. Ashcroft separately told Senators at his hearing that as a Senator he was an advocate, while as Attorney General he would be an enforcer to uphold all the laws, whether or not he disagreed with them. Some Senators called his testimony “confirmation conversion.” Ralph Neas who is leading a coalition opposed to the Ashcroft nomination, said that the nominee was testifying as if he were a “Clinton Cabinet member.” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said “I don’t believe him and I don’t trust him.”
So, again, why does he want to be Attorney General and swear to enforce laws his past record shows he abhors? The answer is what Professor Kenneth Culp Davis wrote about in his 1969 — book Discretionary
Justice. Prosecutors and the Attorney General have enormous discretion as to whether, when, how and against who to enforce the laws. A big country, limited budget and policy decisions combine to give wide
leeway. For example, there are ten law firms just in Washington, DC that have more lawyers than all the attorneys in the Justice Department Antitrust Division. This is why John Ashcroft will feel comfortable as Attorney General and why he must wonder why he was not interrogated in detail about this pivotal issue of enforcement discretion.
Second, why did Clinton wait until after the election for his environmental and consumer protection agencies to do what they should have done many months ago. Medical privacy, food and job safety, truck diesel pollution control standards, public lands protection from commercial logging, drinking water controls on arsenic, labelling and right to know (lead emissions). These and other regulations have been in the works for many months, even years. Why so late? They are very popular decisions for most Americans.
The answer: issuing them before the election would imperil the raising of big campaign money from corporate fat cats and invite massive Republican television advertisements distorting these long overdue and proper police powers as big government. So now, these regulations appear rushed, suspect and vulnerable because Gore did not run on them for validation when he won the popular vote.
Makes you wonder where the traditional values of forth rightness and fortitude are these days in politics.