United States Senate
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
John Ashcroft, Attorney General-designate
January 16, 2001
Mr. Chairman, Senator Leahy, Senator Hatch, members of the committee, it is a high honor to appear before you today for consideration as United States Attorney General. May I first extend my appreciation to the senators from my home state of Missouri: Senators Bond and Carnahan, for the courtesy and kindness of their introduction at the committee today. And, of course, it is most pleasing that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would join them by adding introductory remarks in my behalf. I extend to her my sincere appreciation as well.
For four years I had the privilege of sitting with you on this committee. During that time I never thought of this as simply the Judiciary Committee¾instead I thought of it as the "Justice" Committee, for this distinguished body is the ultimate legislative voice on American justice. It was an honor to serve with many of you in that noble endeavor.
Today I am here in a far different capacity. Presidentelect George W. Bush has designated me to lead the "Justice" Department¾the principle executive voice on American justice and the role model for justice the world over.
It is not only with honor, therefore, that I sit before you today, it is with an awesome sense of responsibility as well. For I know that if confirmed, on my shoulders will rest the responsibility of upholding the American justice tradition that strives to bring protection to the weak, freedom to the restrained, liberty to the oppressed, and security to all. Mine will be the same mantle carried by my predecessors: by Edmond Randolph, President George Washington's choice to be America's first Attorney General; by Robert Kennedy, who found within himself the courage to surmount America's historic racial intolerance and lend powerful assistance to the burgeoning civil rights movement.
I understand the responsibility of the Attorney General's office. I revere it. I am humbled by it. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will spend every waking moment¾and probably some sleeping moments as well¾dedicated to ensuring that the Justice Department lives up to its heritage¾not only enforcing the rule of law, but guaranteeing rights for the advancement of all Americans.
The Attorney General must recognize this: the language of justice is not the reality of justice for all Americans. There are millions of Americans who wonder if justice means hostility aimed at "just us." From racial profiling to news of unwarranted strip searches, the list of injustice in America today is still long. Injustice in America against any individual must not stand. This is the special charge of the U.S. Department of Justice.
· No American should be turned away from a polling place because of the color of her skin or the sound of his name.
· No American should be denied access to public accommodations or a job because of disability.
· No American family should be prevented from realizing the dream of home ownership in the neighborhood of their choice because of skin color.
· No American should have the door to employment or educational opportunity slammed shut because of gender or race.
· No American should fear being stopped by police just because of skin color.
· And no woman should fear being threatened or coerced in seeking constitutionally protected health services.
I pledge to you that if I am confirmed as attorney general, the Justice Department will meet its special charge. Injustice against individuals will not stand. No ifs, ands, or buts. Period.
The Attorney General is charged with the solemn responsibility of serving as the attorney for the United States of America. The Attorney General is the people's counsel. The Attorney General must lead a professional, non-partisan Justice Department that is uncompromisingly fair, defined by integrity and dedicated to upholding the rule of law. I pledge to you that if I am confirmed as attorney general, I will serve as the attorney general of all the people.
Today I'd like to spend a few minutes telling you a bit about myself and my beliefs.
I am the grandson of immigrants. My father was a pastor and a college president. I was raised in Springfield, Missouri in a home where all of God's children were welcome. In fact, my parents gave up their bed so many times to house guests that I sometimes wondered if they actually knew all of God's children. That lesson of hospitality and generosity was just one of the many my parents taught me.
I went to Yale University where I dreamed of playing quarterback. When I got there, I discovered that either I was slow or everyone else was really fast. But I studied hard and I was fortunate enough to graduate and then attend the University of Chicago to study the law.
For me, the law was about the promise of justice¾the promise that under the law, all men, all women, all people are equal. While in Chicago, however, I did find one person I thought a little "more equal" than all the others¾a woman of grace, charm, and intellect¾and not insignificantly to me as a young man, one that I thought was the most beautiful I'd ever seen. After rebuffing me several times, my persistence overcame her better judgment. She has stuck with me for 33 years.
Members of the committee, her name is Janet Ashcroft and I am privileged to have her with me today. I am also very pleased to tell you she is an accomplished legal author and has spent the last five years teaching law in the business department of Howard University. I am pleased as well to welcome Janet's twin sister, Anne Giddings, to the hearing today. Also in attendance is my daughter Martha Grace Patterson, an attorney and mother from Kansas City, Missouri, and my grandson, Jimmy Patterson. I regret that my son, John Robert Ashcroft, whose faculty responsibilities at Forest Park Community College, require his presence with students cannot be with us today. Additionally, active duty responsibilities of my son, Andrew David Ashcroft, in the United States Navy, make impossible his attendance at this hearing.
Upon graduating from law school, I returned to Missouri where I taught business law at Southwest Missouri State University. After five years of teaching, I embarked on a quarter century career in public service serving the people of Missouri. In 1973, then Governor Kit Bond appointed me state auditor and two years later then attorney general Jack Danforth appointed me assistant attorney general. I could not have had to two more accomplished and distinguished mentors in public service than Jack and Kit. Beginning in 1976, I was elected to two terms as attorney general, then two terms as governor and unfortunately, just one term as senator.
In the course of six statewide election campaigns, I came to know the people of Missouri very well. Missouri is representative of the rich diversity of the American people. The people of the Show Me State respond to the plainspoken honesty and tolerance of men like Jack and Kit and, of course, Harry Truman. I am pleased they elected me to statewide office five times.
18 years of my service in elective office have been focused on enforcing the law--six years enacting the law. I know the difference between enactment and enforcement. My record shows that.
I am here today as the Attorney Generaldesignate. I know what the office requires. I have been an attorney general before. I understand that being Attorney General means enforcing the laws as they are written, not enforcing my own personal preferences. It means advancing the national interest, not advocating my personal interest.
For example, in 1979, I issued an attorney general's opinion stating that under the constitution and law of Missouri, a local school board of education had no legal authority to grant permission for the distribution of religious publications to the student body on public school grounds. On another occasion, contrary to the demands of pro-life advocates, I directed state government to maintain the confidentiality of abortion records because a fair reading of the law required it. Throughout my tenure, I did my level best to enforce fully and faithfully the laws as they were written without regard to any personal policy preferences, and when I left the attorney general's office, Missouri was a state more committed to fairness and justice.
From my experience, I also understand that the citizen's paramount civil right is safety. Americans have a right to be secure in their persons, homes and communities. Gun violence, violent against women, drug crime, and sexual predators all threaten to deny this most fundamental right. It is a core responsibility of government, led by the Attorney General and the Department of Justice,cooperating with local law enforcement officials, to secure this right.
Children don't learn in schools overrun by neighborhood violence. Jobs will not be found in communities where criminals own the streets. No American who now feels threatened should have to move to live in a safer neighborhood.
My record on these issues is clear and unmistakable and my determination is unwavering. I will continue to work to deter and punish violent criminals who use guns. I will vigorously enforce federal domestic violence laws and utilize the Violence Against Women Act to assist states in this effort. Likewise, we will put new vigor into the fight against the illegal drug organizations and redouble our vigilance against terrorists.
During my service as bothstate attorney general and governor, we increased the number of full-time law enforcement officers by over 60%. We also lengthened prison sentences for criminals and significantly increased juvenile prosecutions forserious crimes. During my tenure as governor, we won passage for a Missouri Victim's Bill of Rights. We secured $100 million in increased funding to combat violence against women. We also increased funding for anti-drug programs by almost 40%--three quarters of that for education, prevention and treatment.
As a senator, I voted to deny the right to bear arms to those convicted of domestic violence offenses. I supported increased funding for victims and helped enact legislation combating telemarketing scams against seniors. I supported mandatory background checks for gun show sales and increased federal funds for local law enforcement. I have always been pleased by my support from law enforcement officers, including endorsements in my most recent campaign by the Missouri Federation of Police Chiefs and the St. Louis Police Officer's Association. On the strength of this record, I pledge my commitment to secure the rights of all Americans to safety and security in their daily lives.
I also know from my service that a successful Attorney General must be able to listen and find common ground with leaders of widely diverse viewpoints. Few organizations reflect the diversity of strongly held views as much as the bi-partisan National Association of Attorneys General. I was honored when my fellow state attorneys general elected me president of their association. I was humbled when they recognized me for outstanding service by presenting me with the distinguished Wyman Award. I was similarly honored when the bi-partisan National Governor's Association elected me to serve as their chairman.
I know something else about the role of an Attorney General. As I said earlier, the Justice Department has a special charge to protect the most vulnerable in our society from injustice. I take pride in my record of having vigorously enforced the civil rights laws as attorney general and governor. Not only did I enforce the law, I took proactive steps to expand opportunity. I signed Missouri's first hate crimes statute. By executive order I made Missouri one of the first states to recognize Martin Luther King Day. I led the fight to save Lincoln University, the Missouri university founded by African-American Civil War veterans.
I took special care to expand racial and gender diversity in Missouri's courts. I appointed more African American judges to the bench than any governor in Missouri's history, including appointing the first African American on the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals and the first African American woman on the St. Louis County Circuit Court. It was my honor to appoint the first two women to Missouri Courts of Appeals, and the first woman to the Missouri Supreme Court.
No part of the Department of Justice is more important than the Civil Rights Division. I look forward to the President's appointment, with your advice and consent, of a most talented and dedicated leader of that division. It is essential that such strong leadership pursue fair treatment for all Americans.
Before leaving the topic of civil rights, I want to address an issue that has been raised in the weeks since President-elect Bush nominated me to this post. Some have suggested that my opposition to the appointment of Judge Ronnie White, an African American Missouri Supreme Court judge, to a lifetime term on the federal bench was based on something other than my own honest assessment of his qualifications for the post.
During my eight years as Missouri's governor, I was the appointing authority for judges. As I have just noted, I exercised this power with special care to promote racial diversity on the Missouri state court bench. Because of my experience as governor, when I became a senator, I approached the judicial confirmation process with both the appropriate deference due an executive and also a personal commitment to ensuring diversity on the bench. Of the approximately 1,686 Clinton presidential nominees, both judicial and non-judicial, voted on by the Senate, I voted to confirm all but 15. I voted to approve every Cabinet nomination made. Of President Clinton's 230 judicial nominees, I voted to confirm 218. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I had philosophic disagreements with many, if not most, of those judicial nominees.
On the floor of this body, I voted to confirm 26 out of 27 African American judicial nominees. My opposition to Judge Ronnie White was well founded. Studying his judicial record, considering the implications of his decisions, and hearing the widespread objections to his appointment from a large body of my constituents, I simply came to the overwhelming conclusion that Judge White should not be given lifetime tenure as a U.S. district court judge. My legal review revealed a troubling pattern of his willingness to modify settled law in criminal cases. Fifty-three of my colleagues reached the same conclusion. While I will not take time during my brief opening statement to discuss particular matters in Judge White's record that compelled me to my decision, I welcome the opportunity to discuss them later.
Another issue merits specific mention in these opening remarks, and that is the case of Roe v. Wade which established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. As is well known, consistent with Republican United States Attorneys General before me, I believe Roe v. Wade, as an original matter, was wrongly decided. I am personally opposed to abortion. But, as I have explained this afternoon, I well understand that the role of the Attorney General is to enforce the law as it is, not as I would have it. I accept Roe and Casey as the settled law of the land. If confirmed as Attorney General, I will follow the law in this area as in all other areas. The Supreme Court's decisions on this have been multiple, recent, and emphatic.
I have been entrusted with public service for more than 25 years. It is a responsibility I have honored and a trust that I believe I have kept. During those years I have not thought of myself as a public servant of some of the people, but a keeper of the public trust for all the people. If I become United States Attorney General, I again commit to enforcing the law, all of the law, for all of the people.
I appear here today as a man of faith, a man of common-sense conservative beliefs, a man resolutely committed to the American ideal. On occasion, some of you have disagreed with my views. You have done so respectfully. In turn, I hope that my disagreements with you have reciprocated your respect. But whether we are conservatives or liberals, religious or secular, Republicans or Democrats, what we have in common is more than what divides us. As Americans, we live under a Constitution uniting us under a rule of law, a Constitution that allows us to live side by side in harmony working for the mutual interest of all Americans. It is indeed adherence to the rule of law that is the basis of our democracy.
Never in the history of the world has a country so thoroughly dedicated itself to respecting laws. Nowhere in government is thorough obedience to the rule of law more powerfully evident¾and more urgently necessary--than at the Department of Justice. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed by the United States Senate and become the next United States Attorney General, I pledge to you that strict enforcement of the rule of law will be the cornerstone of Justice. As a man of faith, I take my word and my integrity seriously. When I swear to uphold the law, I will keep my oath, so help me God.
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