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
“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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