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Witnesses Testify Regarding Ashcroft's Possible Biases

Aired January 18, 2001 - 11:34 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And more now on the confirmation hearing of John Ashcroft as attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee continues to hear from a number of witnesses that have known and worked with John Ashcroft over the years.

With more on that, here's Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, two very distinct portrayals of John Ashcroft being put forward this morning.

His supporters, including a former chief of staff, portraying him as a man who keeps his word. If he says he will uphold the settled law, he will do so, said one witness. But then on the other side, you have people expressing some incredulity about things Ashcroft has said -- one of them Harriet Woods, who was lieutenant governor when Ashcroft was governor, saying this was a man who had fought ardently against Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion; and expressing some skepticism about his words yesterday, that he would not threaten to try and overturn that.

There are many other hearings going on here today. Let me tell you what those are.

Spencer Abraham right now undergoing some questioning from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He's up to be secretary of energy; several pressing issues in that department right now, some relating to California, another relating to OPEC. Yesterday they said they're cutting production by 5 percent,

Ann Veneman is up; she's up to be secretary of agriculture. Tommy Thompson is before the Finance Committee; he's been proposed as secretary of Health and Human Services. Also, Anthony Principi for Veterans Affairs. And Gale Norton -- that one starts this afternoon; it's going to be controversial. A lot of opposition to her nomination from environmental groups. We will hear that articulated today.

Right now we're going to take you back up to the hearing. I believe Kate Michelman of NARAL is speaking now; this group has ardently opposed the Ashcroft nomination.

KATE MICHELMAN, PRESIDENT, NARAL: ... to repeal established constitutional rights is not only sufficient reason to vote against John Ashcroft's nomination, it should compel rejection. John Ashcroft has told you that he will enforce the law. I did not expect him to say anything different. Remember, though, the duties of the attorney general are far greater. He will advise the president on legal initiatives, he will be charged with interpreting the law, he will be a strong voice in the appointment of every United States attorney and federal judge, the solicitor general will work under his discretion. And I believe that Senator Ashcroft will have a very keen eye for the opportunities new cases and new statutes present.

May I say that NARAL expected the president to nominate a conservative, but John Ashcroft's record is indeed uncompromising. Millions of women who stand with me cannot afford the risk of your giving John Ashcroft the awesome powers of the attorney general.

Thank you.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Thank you, Ms. Michelman.

And, Ms. Feldt? As one not unaccustomed to testifying before the Congress, good to have you here.

GLORIA FELDT, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Thank you very much, Chairman Leahy and Senator Hatch and all senators.

I am really honored to be here, particularly to follow upon the testimony of Ronnie White, I must say, very relevant to what we're talking about now.

I also have a little confession to make. Yesterday Mr. Ashcroft disclosed to you that he and I, as I was the one who had talked with him about armadillos and skunks -- the real point of that exchange, however, was to say that I agree with him that it is very important to act upon your convictions. And he and I have both spent over 25 years of our lives acting upon our convictions. But can you just wash away 25 years of passionate activism? I know I certainly could not.

I want to believe Mr. Ashcroft when he says he accepts Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. But his career stands in sharp contrast to his statements this week. Since past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, I am very worried.

John Ashcroft's beliefs are his own private business, but what he does about his beliefs are everybody's business. His career in government is noteworthy for his crusade to enact into law his belief that personhood begins at fertilization. This belief defies medical science.

As a U.S. senator, you know that he sponsored the most extreme version of the anti-choice human life amendment, which would have written his belief into the Constitution.

As governor of Missouri, he signed the legislation declaring his belief to be the policy of the state.

And he opposed contraceptive coverage for federal employees because some of the contraceptives would have acted or could have acted after fertilization. Indeed, he never voted to support family planning at all.

The fundamental right to choose declared in Roe stands on the earlier Griswald v. Connecticut decision which protected the right to contraception. Both are based on the fundamental human and civil right to privacy in making childbearing decisions.

Mr. Ashcroft's crusade would not only outlaw abortion but most common methods of contraception as well. And unless Mr. Ashcroft is prepared to walk away from the keystone of his entire political career, then as attorney general he would be in a unique position to impose his definition of personhood as fertilization. This could not only strike at the right to abortion but also contraception.

An anti-choice president, plus John Ashcroft, plus a Supreme Court they helped shape, equals a recipe for disaster.

You have asked whether Mr. Ashcroft would enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. He says that he will enforce the law, and that is necessary, but not sufficient. It takes leadership and prevention.

And here's the difference: In the late '80s, hoards of demonstrators repeatedly stepped over the lines of legal protest at our centers. I personally received a long series of telephone death threats, both at home and at work. Our doctors were stopped day and night. Our health centers received numerous bomb threats. I went to the chief of police, and he said: "Close the clinic." There was a sea change after FACE, and with an attorney general committed to vigorous enforcement.

It's not just about enforcing the law after violence has occurred, you see, because all around the country, U.S. attorneys brought together various law enforcement agencies. Collaboration and cooperation became expectations. U.S. marshals not only answered our phone calls, they started calling us to ask if they could help with preventive measures. Murders and violent acts nationwide were cut in half as a result.

Paula Geanino (ph), CEO of our St. Louis Planned Parenthood affiliate, tells me that in John Ashcroft's tenure as the attorney general and the governor of Missouri, he did not once take a public leadership stand against clinic violence. Her staff could not find in the media nor any individual who remembers Mr. Ashcroft speaking out on clinic violence, even when Reproductive Health Services was firebombed, causing $100,000 worth of damage in 1986.

Senator Ashcroft has said that he's proud Missouri brought more anti-abortion cases to the Supreme Court than any state. He's said that outlawing abortion is more important to him than cutting taxes, and that if he could only pass one law, it would be to outlaw abortion. How can he turn that spigot off? And if he can, what does that say?

I want to close by talking to you not as senators, but as men and women -- none of the women are here today, I'm sorry to say -- who care deeply about the nation and its people. This nomination represents something bigger than presidential discretion, bigger than senatorial courtesy, bigger even than your personal friendships. This is about a fundamental human and civil right to determine whether you believe women have the moral authority to run their own lives, to make their own childbearing decisions.

So I ask you to listen to your inner voices and think about what you will say to your daughters and your granddaughters. How will you explain to future generations if John Ashcroft uses the power of his office to deny the women you know and love reproductive choices, the right to our own lives?

Thank you very much.

LEAHY: Thank you, Ms. Feldt.

Ms. Greenberger, good to have you here again. And please go ahead. And we're having some difficulties with some of the sound system, so bring the microphone close to you.


Thank you, Senator Leahy, and other members of this committee for the invitation to testify today. I'm co-president of the National Women's Law Center, which since 1972 has been in the forefront of virtually every major effort to secure women's legal rights. My testimony today is presented on behalf of the center as well as the National Partnership for Women and Families, which since its founding in 1971 as the Women's Legal Defense Fund has also been a preeminent advocate for women's legal rights in Washington and nationally.

And we're here today to oppose the nomination of John Ashcroft to serve as attorney general of the United States, and we do so because the attorney general of the United States, very simply, is responsible for protecting and enforcing the fundamental principles and laws that have advanced and safeguarded women's progress for more than three decades, and because, as has been stated here, Senator Ashcroft's record demonstrates that entrusting him with this heavy responsibility would put these precious gains for women at far too great a risk to ask them to bear.

Mr. Ashcroft has testified that he would accept responsibility to execute the laws as they are and not as he might wish them to be, but we have not been reassured by his testimony. The extreme positions that have been a driving and overriding theme of his long public career have repeatedly led him to misread what the laws are and then to zealously use his public offices to advance his mistaken views. His assurances in his testimony were too often general in nature, subject to many caveats, and must be considered within the context of the way in which he did discharge his obligations when he was also obligated to enforce and also interpret the laws.

I want to mention briefly some of the areas beyond choice and abortion and contraception, so important, and what has been discussed so far this morning, to raise some other issues as well. We have heard about his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have given women the highest legal protection against sex discrimination in all areas of life by the government. This stands in stark contrast to his support of other amendments to the Constitution, extraordinary support to so many other amendments.

And we know about his vigorous pursuit of the National Organization for Women. And we know of only one other attorney general who even mentions support of that kind of suit, out of the 15 states that were subject to boycott at that time.

He used his veto power not just in not supporting laws important to women, but actually vetoing laws, including a maternity leave law in 1980 that he vetoed that was far more limited in scope than the federal Family Medical and Leave Act that he would be charged with upholding, including enforcing as attorney general.

He twice vetoed bills that would have established a state minimum wage in Missouri. Women are the majority of minimum-wage earners. And at that time Missouri was only one of six states without a state minimum wage law. He twice used his line-item veto, in 1991 and again the following year, to seek out and strike even small sums of money for domestic violence programs, prompting a local domestic violence advocate to denounce the action as reprehensible in light of the fact that the programs in question were literally struggling to stay afloat.

One of the most critical responsibilities of an AG in administering the Department of Justice program dealing with violence against women is determining the financial resources that will be committed to that very program.

As a senator, Mr. Ashcroft's record on issues important to women has been no better, and my written testimony explains why. I will mention two points briefly.

First, as senator, he repeatedly blocked the confirmation of highly qualified women to the federal bench.

Not one of us sitting here today could have failed but be moved by the extraordinary testimony of Judge Ronnie White. And I want to point out how struck I was by the important notes of criticism that were articulated by members of this committee about the process that was followed in the Judge Ronnie White case.

There have been similar problems with other women nominees. Senator Specter, you identified those problems this morning. Senator Ashcroft would be screening and evaluating judges and major responsibility. He would be responsible for setting up and implementing the process he would use to screen and refer judges to the president. He would be doing this behind closed doors.

This Senate has seen how he has operated in the open. To give him that vast authority, as I say, behind closed doors, is unthinkable. I want to also say that his promise to enforce the law as it is has not been borne out in practice when he has disagreed with the law as it has been. He has not been able to do so. And I am not questioning his motives or the conviction with which he made the promise to this committee and to the American public. What I am questioning is his ability to dispassionately, despite his intentions to do so otherwise, but his ability to actually read the law fairly and accurately.

We've heard about what happened with the nurse's case. I want to briefly mention one other case when he was attorney general of Missouri, where he supported, in court, trying to go all the way up to the Supreme Court, a law that would have automatically terminated parental rights to a child born after an attempted abortion, and then making automatically the child a ward of the state.

Judge William Webster, then a judge on the 8th Circuit, described the provision, and these are in his words in a concurring opinion, as offensive, totally lacking in due process and patently unconstitutional.

We cannot ask the American public to rely upon the promises of Senator Ashcroft that his view of what is constitutional will become the view that then is argued to the Supreme Court, is the subject of advice for discrimination laws across the country...

LEAHY: Thank you, Ms. Greenberger.

GREENBERGER: ... and the like. Thank you.

LEAHY: Ms. Campbell, as always, it's good to have you here. Please go ahead with your testimony.


Honorable senators, I'm going to declare this is a tough one for me, but I'm going to get through it.

My only son is dead. He's been murdered because of a flawed justice system; a weak system allowed the release of a lifer from prison. After the inmate was given another chance, that one more chance and that opportunity was given to kill my son.

We need an attorney general who will strongly uphold the intent of the law and our Constitution and help protect the people from crime.

My name is Colleen Thompson Campbell. Just last month, I completed my second term was mayor in the beautiful city of San Juan Capistrano in California. I'm a former chairman of POST, that's the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. I also serve on the California Commission on Criminal Justice. I did not buy into ever being a victim of crime.

Today I've been asked to represent and speak for many people, including my friend and great crime-fighter, John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted." He badly wanted to be here today.

I've been requested to represent and speak on behalf of 12 major California crime victims organizations and the hundreds of thousands of crime victims that those organizations represent. We strongly and unequivocally support the confirmation of John Ashcroft as the next attorney general of the United States of America. Throughout his long career, he has shown great heart and he has worked hard to lessen the devastation which victims are forced to endure.

My own journey into hell began with the murder of our only son, Scott (ph).

Because we were only the mom and dad, we had no rights. We were forced to sit outside the courtroom on a bench in the hall, like dogs with fleas. And during the seven years encompassing the three trials of our son's murderers, that's where we sat. We were excluded, while the defendants' families were allowed to be inside and follow the trial and give support to the killers.

The murder of our son was brutal, and our treatment at the hands of the justice system was inhumane, cruel and barbaric. Nothing in our life had prepared us for such injustice.

Long ago, John Ashcroft realized the need for balanced justice and has worked toward that end. He understands the victims in our country must no longer suffer the indignities that many have been forced to endure.

John Ashcroft stands for fairness, law, order and justice. He stands for balancing the rights of the accused with the rights of the victims and the law-abiding. He stands for constitutional rights for crime victims.

Throughout this great country we need unselfish courage. We need John Ashcroft's strong conviction in the right against crime. And we need him to further victims' rights.

Victims, God bless them, deserve notice, just like the criminal, the bright to be present and the right to be heard at critical stages of their case. They deserve respect and concern for their safety. They deserve a speedy trial every bit as much as the defendant. Victims deserve at the very least equal rights to the criminal.

My only sibling, my brother Mickey Thompson (ph), and his wife were also murdered. This case is being actively pursued, and I have great faith that this case will soon be brought to trial. I only hope that our family can endure the justice system again.

John Ashcroft will fight for legal rights and true remedies for crime victims. We urge you to support John Ashcroft's confirmation.

No one knows who's going to be a victim, and if you will permit me, my words today are dedicated to the memory of Brian (ph) Campbell, my 17-year-old grandson, who died nine days ago. And it's really tough to be here, and if this wasn't so darn important I wouldn't be here. But together, Brian and I believed, as long as we have courage, today will be beautiful; as long as we have memories, yesterday will remain; as long as we have purpose, tomorrow will improve.

Thank you, Senators, for allowing me to speak. And I'm sorry I choke up.

LEAHY: Ms. Campbell, you have no need to apologize for being choked up. A former senator and mentor of mine when I came here said a person who has no tears has no heart.

CAMPBELL: Thank you.

LEAHY: And so...

CAMPBELL: They must think I have a lot of tears, they got me the whole box. Thank you for saying that.

LEAHY: Well, those of us who have been prosecutors have some sense of what victims go through, and it is a terrible thing. I don't think anybody who hasn't either been a victim or been intimately involved with the criminal justice system knows the victims get victimized over and over and over again.

At the request of Senator Hatch, and then following the normal courtesy, he's advised me that Congressman Watts and Congressman Hulshof -- I know Congressman Hulshof is here, because I spoke to him earlier -- are here.

LEAHY: This was the panel that was going to be on last night and because of some miscommunication, some members were able to be here and some weren't. And now, because of further miscommunication, the last member of that panel is not here.

But following the normal tradition in the Congress of putting members of Congress on if they're available, I'm going to ask the panel here to step down, rejoin us after lunch and we'll go back to your questions.

KAGAN: All right, it looks like the Senate Judiciary Committee is getting ready to take a lunch break, a good time for us to wrap up our coverage so far this morning.

That was such a emotional testimony we heard from Colleen Campbell. She's a victims' rights advocate, speaking out in support of the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general.

There had been a number of witnesses that have testified over the morning, including a number who are not in support of that nomination.



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