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Liberal groups band together against Ashcroft

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Liberal groups said Tuesday they will work together against John Ashcroft, President-elect Bush's choice to head the Justice Department.

The foes include advocates of gun control, abortion rights, gays and lesbians and the environment, many of whom also opposed Ashcroft during his five statewide races in Missouri.

"John Ashcroft's views on a range of issues that would be the subject of his work as attorney general are simply too extreme," said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The former GOP senator and governor, Henderson added, "should not be invested with the responsibility of guaranteeing justice for all."

A Republican coalition working to blunt criticism of Bush's Cabinet picks countered: "For these groups, anyone to the right of Ted Kennedy would be considered too extreme."

The Judiciary Committee expects to begin hearings early next week. Tough questioning awaits Ashcroft, said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

"In his case, it's primarily a question of whether Sen. Ashcroft is able to enforce laws that he has publicly disagreed with," Daschle said.

Grass-roots efforts are under way to call, e-mail and write U.S. senators, the anti-Ashcroft groups said during a news conference Tuesday, and an NAACP-sponsored protest is being planned in Washington.

Among their complaints is Ashcroft's staunch opposition to abortion, as well as his successful effort to scuttle the federal judgeship nomination of a black Missouri Supreme Court judge.

"When George Bush considers appointments to the Supreme Court and turns to his attorney general for help, what names do we think that a John Ashcroft would offer?" asked Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

"His record clearly indicates that he would point the way toward those nominees who would overturn Roe vs. Wade," she said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

A spokeswoman for the Bush transition team, Mindy Tucker, countered that Bush is seeking no such move.

"President-elect Bush has already said he does not think the country is ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade and that he wants to pursue legislation that both sides can agree on," Tucker said.

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