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Divisive Ashcroft Vote Sends Strong Message

The nomination of John Ashcroft for U.S. Attorney General generated historic opposition. The Feminist Majority joined an unprecedented effort by women’s rights, abortion rights, civil rights, gun control, environmental and labor organizations to oppose the nomination of Ashcroft for Attorney General. The STOP Ashcroft NOW coalition proved to be an effective force in raising the public opinion bar, demanding extreme scrutiny during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and winning 42 votes against Ashcroft.

“In my 25 years as a women’s rights leader I have never seen such a strong, diverse citizens’ coalition to block a cabinet position,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “What’s more, 42 votes indicate this coalition can block a hostile Supreme Court appointment.” In the Senate, 41 votes are necessary to sustain a filibuster which will be crucial to prevent the appointment of any justice who does not support Roe v. Wade.

Instead of sailing through the confirmation process as predicted, Ashcroft was forced to defend his extremist record and pledge to uphold the laws that he has spent 25 years fighting against. “We have him on record saying that Roe is the settled law of the land, and that he will enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). We intend to hold him, the Senate, and the President accountable,” added Smeal.

As part of the vigorous campaign to block confirmation of Ashcroft, high school students, college students, and young interns converged on Capitol Hill for a Young Feminist Lobby Day, sponsored by the Feminist Majority (FM) and other members of the STOP Ashcroft NOW coalition.

The feminist community is grateful to those who upheld women’s rights and civil rights with their vote against Ashcroft and his extremist views. “I am especially proud that 100 percent of the Democratic women Senators voted to stop Ashcroft and protect the hard won gains of the women’s rights movement,” continued Smeal.

Eight Democratic senators supported Ashcroft. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) broke ranks with his fellow Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and disappointed pro-choice supporters across the country when he voted to confirm John Ashcroft. The remaining members of the ‘Ashcroft 8’ who turned their backs on women’s rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, and gun control rights are Senators Zell Miller (D-GA), Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), John B. Breaux (D-LA), Robert C. Byrd (WV), Ben Nelson (NE), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND).

“Like the Clarence Thomas vote, because of their Ashcroft vote some Senators will not be returning,” predicted Smeal.

The John Ashcroft presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the John Ashcroft the women’s rights movement has known for over 20 years are not the same man.

“I should know,” said Smeal. “As Missouri’s Attorney General, Ashcroft filed suit against the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1978, when I was NOW’s president.” Ashcroft charged NOW with federal anti-trust violations and attempted to break the ERA convention boycott of unratified states. When asked by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) in the Judiciary Committee hearings, he led people to believe his purpose was simply to defend Missouri’s tourism industry.

Ashcroft’s willingness to use the law and Missouri tax dollars to launch a three-year unsuccessful fight against NOW and the ERA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court foreshadows how far he will go to fight and deny women’s rights. “His utter lack of understanding of freedom of political speech exemplifies a track record where his right-wing ideology trumps his legal judgment,” said Smeal.

President Bush promised to be a uniter and not a divider, yet Ashcroft’s radical anti-choice record placed him on the extreme edge of the far right. As a U.S. Senator, Ashcroft co-sponsored a resolution to amend the Constitution

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