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The BBC's Rob Watson
"The man America's liberals love to hate"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 17:53 GMT
Profile: John Ashcroft
Attorney-General designate John Ashcroft
John Ashcroft is accused of racism, a charge he denies
The strongly conservative, deeply religious John Ashcroft was always going to be a controversial choice for US attorney-general.

Pro-death penalty, anti-abortion, anti gay rights, and opposed to gun control - Mr Ashcroft's firmly-held views make him unsuitable to be the country's chief law officer, argue many Democrats.

He is not the person who should be entrusted with the significant responsibilities of the attorney-general

Judith Schaefer, civil rights activist
Women's rights advocates and black people are particularly angered by the nomination, as Mr Ashcroft has opposed abortion rights and school desegregation in his home state of Missouri.

The former senator famously once boasted of his conservatism, saying there are two things you find in the middle of the road: "a moderate and a dead skunk", adding he did not want to be either.

Mr Ashcroft has caused anger among Democrats and minority groups
"John Ashcroft is an extremist; he has a record of insensitivity, if not outright hostility towards women and minorities," said civil rights activist Judith Schaefer.

But Republican Senator Orrin Hatch has strongly dismissed the charges of racism and sexism against his former colleague.

"I don't think anybody in their right mind who knows John Ashcroft would say that he's biased in any way shape or form, " he said. "John is a very fine man."

Mr Ashcroft's record as a senator helps explain why he is so controversial. The conservative Christian Coalition gave him a 100% rating for the year 2000, while the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters and the left-leaning National Organisation for Women each gave him a zero.

The main points that his opponents want answers on are:

  • his opposition to the appointment of a black Missouri judge, Ronnie White, to a federal court bench;

  • his opposition to voluntary school desegregation plans in his home state when he was attorney-general of Missouri;

  • comments praising Southern war heroes from the American Civil War;

  • his opposition to a voter registration campaign in St Louis, which has a large black and traditionally Democratic population;

  • allegations of improper fund-raising in his campaigns for various Missouri offices.


Mr Ashcroft has denied he is a racist, one of the most emotive charges against him.

In one of his few public statements since his nomination in December, Mr Ashcroft said he opposed the police practice of targeting members of racial minorities for questioning.

"It's wrong, it's inappropriate, it shouldn't be done," he said.

Mr Ashcroft has also said he regrets his meeting last September with the leader of a conservative group who holds controversial views on racial issues. He took a lot of criticism for that meeting, but later said he would not have done it if had known of the man's opinions.

He angered Democrats in 1999 by accepting an honorary degree from South Carolina's Bob Jones University, which until last year banned interracial dating. Students still have to have parental permission.

Relgious upbringing

Born 9 May 1942, in Chicago, Mr Ashcroft grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where his family had moved to be nearer to the world headquarters of the Assembly of God Church.

His father was a minister in the church, and a dominant influence on the young John Ashcroft, who attended Hillcrest High School in Springfield.

In his book, Lessons from a Father to his Son, Mr Ashcroft said he woke up every morning hearing "the magisterial wake-up call" of his father's prayers.

Before entering politics, the former senator taught business law at Southwest Missouri State University. He graduated with honours from Yale University in 1964, and earned a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1967.

Since then he has held a number of political posts.

He was Missouri's state auditor from 1973-75, and then became the state's assistant attorney-general in 1975. The following year he moved up to the attorney-general job, where he stayed until 1985.

During that time he was president of the National Association of Attorneys-General, and received the organisation's top award in 1983.

Political ladder

Then in 1984 he was elected governor of Missouri, and won a second term in 1988. He served as chairman of the Republican Governors' Association 1989-90, and served as chairman of the National Governor's Association in 1991 and 1992.

John cannot see a person in need without trying to reach out and help

Janet Ashcroft
Mr Ashcroft took up a seat in the Senate in 1995, and briefly considered running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, with backing from religious conservatives.

In the end he ran for Senate re-election, but lost his seat to a dead man: Mel Carnahan, whose widow Jean stepped in as the Democrat candidate when her husband died after the ballot papers had already been printed.

But that meant the way was clear for him to become George W Bush's nomination for attorney-general.

When he lost the Senate seat, colleagues from both parties said he handled the situation graciously, and praised him for being an ethical, fair-minded lawmaker.

John Ashcroft's wife, Janet, has described her husband, a non-smoker and non-drinker, as "a man of integrity and decency and honesty, and compassion".

"He is reasoned and flexible and, you know, everybody likes John Ashcroft," she said. "This whole firestorm has been a total shock."

The couple have three children and one grandchild.

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush defends embattled nominee
08 Nov 00 | Americas
Dead man wins Senate seat
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