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Democrats Focus on Women’s Rights, Civil Rights in Opening Day of Ashcroft Hearing

The first session of the Senate confirmation hearing for John Ashcroft’s nomination to the position of attorney general began Tuesday morning with Democratic leaders coming out strong against Ashcroft’s anti-choice, anti-civil rights, and anti-woman record. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, described the position of the Attorney General as one requiring the “full confidence and trust of the American people.” Leahy continued with “Senator Ashcroft has often taken aggressively activist positions on a number of issues that deeply divide the American people.”

In his opening statement, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) quickly pointed out Sen. Ashcroft’s self-serving history, saying, “We know that while serving in high office, he has time and time again aggressively used litigation and legislation in creative and inappropriate ways to advance his political and ideological goals.” Sen. Ashcroft has a record of using his power while in public office to advance his own extremist ideology, including fighting against desegregation efforts in St. Louis schools and working to abolish abortion rights. Sen. Kennedy continued, “How can we have any confidence at all that he will not do the same thing with the vast new powers he will have at his disposal as attorney general?”

Americans’ lack of confidence in Ashcroft is best shown in a recent Newsweek poll that shows 41 percent of those polled believe the Senate should reject Ashcroft’s nomination. Only 37 percent of people polled supported his nomination.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), during the confirmation hearing, also raised questions about Ashcroft’s ability to enforce current laws such as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and Roe v. Wade given his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Events surrounding the Senate confirmation hearings included a National Council of Women’s Organizations press conference Tuesday morning, at which Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority spoke along with other women’s rights leaders who announced their opposition to the nominations of both John Ashcroft for Attorney General and Gov. Tommy Thompson for Sec. of Health and Human Services.

“Women’s organizations are justifiably outraged over Bush’s appointment of right-wing, anti-women’s rights extremists,” said Smeal. “Based on their records, Ashcroft puts ideology over law and Thompson puts ideology over health policy,” added Smeal. “In both cases, women lose big.” The National Council of Women’s Organizations represents 120 women’s rights organizations with over 6 million members.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) also held a rally during the confirmation hearing on Tuesday voicing opposition to Ashcroft’s anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-gay record. NOW will rally again Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. at the Russell Senate building.

For more on the Senate Confirmation Hearings and Cabinet appointees, visit AppointmentWatch and

Media Resources: – January 16, 2001; Feminist Majority Foundation – January 16, 2001

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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