News Release ~ 01/14/2000

Nominee opposed to government-funded drug treatment Ashcroft’s political use of justice issues draws fire of criminal defense leaders

Washington, DC (January 14, 2000) -- The board of directors of the nation’s largest professional criminal defense organization has unanimously approved a resolution opposing the confirmation of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General.

[Before taking this unprecedented action, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wrote and requested a conference with Ashcroft to discuss criminal justice issues, but he did not schedule a meeting.]

The Board resolution cites the following reasons for questioning the fitness of Ashcroft, on the grounds of integrity, character, and fairness, to hold the highest law enforcement office in America:

  • Ashcroft’s unprincipled distortion of the record of an African-American judicial nominee, Judge Ronnie White; his ambush of White on the Senate floor, rather than questioning him in committee hearings; and his unjustified criticism of the same nominee’s dissents in two death penalty cases;
  • his denouncing of federal funding for treatment of citizens who abuse drugs, in spite of its proven efficacy in reducing crime, and his proposal that persons convicted of even minor drug offenses be denied professional licenses;
  • his unswerving support of the death penalty and his opposition to a death penalty moratorium, despite mounting evidence of racial and geographic disparities in its application and the fact that innocent persons have been and continue to be condemned to death;
  • his staunch advocacy of mandatory minimum sentences;
  • his actions in opposition to keeping statistics on racial profiling;
  • his endorsement of the racially-divisive journal, Southern Partisan, and his expressed empathy for the Confederacy;
  • his effort at making crimes which are already punishable by states and localities into federal crimes, and at taking away traditional responsibilities of state and local law enforcement officials and conferring them, instead, on federal officials.

“Ashcroft’s legacy on criminal justice issues is demagoguery and opportunism,” said Edward Mallett, president of NACDL.

The NACDL resolution describes Ashcroft’s attacks on Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, which prevented White’s confirmation to the federal district court in St. Louis. On the Senate floor, Ashcroft lambasted White’s judicial record, especially in two dissents in death penalty cases. He went on to denounce White as showing “a tremendous bent toward criminal activity.” He also said that the jurist was “pro-criminal.”

Mallett pointed out that White has upheld the death penalty in 41 of 59 cases decided by the Missouri Supreme Court during his tenure. “Every appeals judge dissents some of the time, even Chief Justice Rehnquist,” said Mallett. “To call every dissent a pro-criminal vote, showing a bent toward criminal activity, is slanderous. It is the jurisprudence of divisiveness and hate.”

Mallett said that Ashcroft’s ideological rigidity makes him unqualified to help solve the nation’s drug problem. As governor of Missouri, Ashcroft actually proposed to strip professional licenses “. . . for anyone from doctors and lawyers to professional wrestlers,” even for misdemeanor drug possession. Ashcroft has also opposed government-funded drug treatment, saying that it “accommodates us at our lowest and least.”

“Virtually every addict or alcoholic would like to have the money to rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic,” Mallett said. “From federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey to the voters of Arizona and California, every knowledgeable person in America agrees today that a dollar spent for treatment is better-spent than a dollar spent on imprisonment. When Ashcroft says there should be no funds for treatment, he threatens everyone in America with crime by those who lack money and need help. When he says no one who has been convicted of even a minor drug offense should be allowed to keep a job that requires a license, he threatens massive unemployment.

Mallett also questions Ashcroft’s ability to properly manage the Justice Department’s most important function: prosecutorial discretion. “His relentless, rigid, and self-righteous record on criminal justice issues makes him unqualified to set the rules for who will be prosecuted, and for what, and what should be the range of punishment.” 

Full text of NACDL’s resolution opposing Ashcroft’s confirmation as attorney general, together with a research paper on Ashcroft''s criminal justice views, follows. Both are also available at NACDL’s Web site, www.nacdl.org.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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