Attorney General Ashcroft a foe of womens rights

The following are excerpts from the statement of National Organization for Women (NOW) President Kim Gandy at the Sept. 13 “March to Justice” Rally at the U.S. Department of Justice.

From the day that John Ashcroft’s nomination as Attorney General was announced, feminist leaders and civil rights leaders have warned that he is an enemy of women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, separation of church and state, the right of free speech and the right to petition the government.

Throughout his political career, all the way back to Missouri, he has abused his power to go after his political enemies (including NOW) and refused to answer charges of misusing public resources for private political purposes. He has demeaned and slandered others to advance his career.

Just days before Ashcroft was confirmed to head the Justice Department, NOW released a statement saying this:

“We do not have confidence in Sen. Ashcroft’s assertions that he will uphold the Constitution and enforce the law of the land diligently and equally. We are convinced that the nominee, if confirmed, will use the powers of this high office to advance his personal political and religious ideology.”

And today, standing before the building that is supposed to represent justice, I’m sad to say that these fears have proven true.

He said that he’d enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, but it took pushing, prodding and pulling to get him to enforce that landmark legislation during an announced campaign (summer of last year) by violent anti-abortion extremists. He even denied protection to one of their top targets – a Kansas clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller, who in 1993 was shot at close range in front of his clinic. Only after three abortion rights groups called a news conference to denounce Ashcroft’s decision did the Justice Department reverse itself and announce it would send U.S. deputy marshals to help protect Tiller and his staff from further violence.

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As the country’s chief enforcer of the important Violence Against Women Act, Ashcroft’s first move on the issue was to close the Violence Against Women Office. Are you surprised?

Even the committee that advises the Department on this issue is being stacked with friends of the Bush administration with little record on the issue. Two of Ashcroft’s most recent appointments to the task force are members of the Independent Women’s Forum (which started life as Women for Clarence Thomas), including their president, Nancy Pfotenhauer. Not surprisingly, IWF was one of the most vocal opponents of the Violence Against Women Act. The IWF has gone so far as to claim that there’s no such thing as date rape. Are you surprised?

Ignorance on an issue apparently doesn’t disqualify you from being an expert in the eyes of John Ashcroft.

Since Sept. 11 last year, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft have used the “war” on terrorism as an excuse to morph the U.S. Department of Justice into a Ministry of Injustice where civil liberties have become negotiable.

In fact, one of the hidden consequences of Sept. 11 is the fact that this Attorney General, and this administration has taken advantage of peoples’ fears to press forward a right-wing domestic agenda – and they’re demanding that the Congress support it to prove that they are patriotic Americans supporting their president.

And woe to the ones who dare to complain. As John Ashcroft moved to create unprecedented limitations on civil rights and liberties, he quickly squelched dissent from several quarters –

“ ... to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists,” and then he said, “They give ammunition to American’s enemies.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that speaking up when the government wrongs is the highest form of patriotism — and it’s become a badge of true patriotism to be called unpatriotic by the likes of John Ashcroft.

With so many threats on the horizon, I think that indeed the greatest threat to our civil rights and civil liberties does in fact come from John Ashcroft, … because his Justice Department is the one screening candidates for lifetime judicial appointments to the federal bench, and there is no question that the judicial candidates he approves are indeed made in his image. The federal courts are being stacked with right-wing zealots who have already changed the balance on the courts of appeal, and their next stop is the Supreme Court.

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Just two days after the first anniversary of Sept. 11, the National Organization for Women has joined forces here in front of this so-called Department of Justice to make our demands for protection heard – of women against violence, protection of clinics from domestic terrorism, and protection of the civil rights and civil liberties we hold dear.

We know about bullies, and we know how to stand up to them. And we must. Without respect for right of all of “we the people,” democracy loses and terrorism wins. I know YOU won’t let that happen.