HRC Pledges To Hold Ashcroft Accountable For Positions Taken During Confirmation Process

The Human Rights Campaign has vowed to hold Attorney General

John Ashcroft accountable for the new, more moderate positions he professed

during his divisive nomination battle, which ended in his confirmation

with a 58 to 42 Senate vote.

“It is clear a different man turned up for this job interview,” said

HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. “To win confirmation, Ashcroft

recognized he had to turn himself into an inclusive moderate, an image in

stark contrast to his settled record and past.”

While Ashcroft received enough votes, his nomination galvanized an

unprecedented coalition that opposed confirmation based on his dismal human

rights record and because it doubted his ability to enforce the nation’s

laws fairly.

“This was one of the most divisive nominations in our nation’s

history, at a time when our country needed healing from the bitterly

contested presidential election,” said Birch. “We urge the president to

meet with the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights to understand the civil

rights community’s opposition to Ashcroft. Now is the time for Bush to send

assurances that he intends to follow through on his campaign promise to

serve all Americans.”

HRC opposed Ashcroft for a multitude of reasons, including the many anti-gay

statements he made during his career in public service, and his opposition

to laws that would protect gay and lesbian Americans from discrimination.

Ashcroft’s anti-gay record became a flash point during his confirmation

hearing when he was questioned on his role in blocking a vote on President

Clinton’s openly gay nominee James C. Hormel for ambassador to Luxembourg.

During his sworn testimony, Ashcroft said Hormel’s sexual orientation had

nothing to do with his opposition, but previous statements he made to the

media about Hormel contradicted his testimony.

Ashcroft misled the Senate Judiciary Committee when he said that he opposed

Hormel based on the “totality of his record” and that he “knew” Hormel more

than 30 years ago while a student at the University of Chicago law school

where Hormel was a dean.

But Ashcroft refused to elaborate on what part of Hormel’s record he

opposed, and his suggestive inference of “knowing” Hormel belied the fact

that the two had never had a conversation.

To separate himself from his anti-gay record, Ashcroft said he would not

take sexual orientation into account in hiring and “couldn’t imagine” asking

a prospective employee about his or her sexual orientation.

Georgetown University Professor Paul Offner, however, said at a news

conference that Ashcroft asked him about his sexual orientation during a job

interview while Ashcroft was governor of Missouri. According to Offner, the

first question Ashcroft asked him was: “Do you have the sexual preference of

most men?” Offner said he believed that giving the wrong answer would

disqualify him from the job.

“The fact that Ashcroft felt it necessary to distance himself from

his anti-gay past, shows he realized how outside the mainstream and

unacceptable it is to discriminate based on sexual orientation,” said Birch.

“He knew that he had a much better chance at confirmation if he obscured his

record rather than try to defend it. We applaud those senators who voted

against this nomination based on Ashcroft’s record. Those senators’ votes

help send the message that Bush must govern from the center.”

Ashcroft, a one-term Republican senator has repeatedly earned a

zero rating on HRC’s voting scorecards. But more important, his anti-gay

views make it uncertain he will uphold existing federal law that affects gay

and lesbian Americans, such as the Hate Crime Statistics Act and the Hate

Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act.

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