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Ashcroft's dismal legacy.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Tuesday's resignation of John Ashcroft, one of the most divisive attorneys general in U.S. history, briefly opened a door for President Bush. He had a chance to reach out to the nation's political center and name a replacement who would put enforcement of the law and respect for civil rights above ideology.

Bush closed that door one day later by appointing White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as Ashcroft's successor, passing over less controversial candidates such as C. Boyden Gray, a White House counsel to the first President Bush, and Larry Thompson, who served as Ashcroft's deputy until last year.

While Gonzales is not nearly as polarizing a figure as Ashcroft, the Senate should think long and hard before confirming the longtime Bush ally. Gonzales played a pivotal role in developing the administration's relentless post-Sept. 11 push to curb civil liberties with the justification of enhancing national security.

Lawmakers should remember that Gonzales staunchly defended the administration's policy of detaining enemy combatants indefinitely without access to lawyers or courts. He wrote the notorious 2002 memo in which the president asserted the right to waive anti-torture law and international treaties that protect prisoners of war, a move that led to the abuses that later came to light in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Gonzales also has been a consistent supporter of the USA Patriot Act, which many Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree should be modified to remove provisions that trample on civil liberties.

As for Ashcroft, he will be missed only by fellow ideologues who share his skewed views on issues ranging from civil liberties to the separation of church and state.

Ashcroft's nomination was approved nearly four years ago by a 52-48 vote, the narrowest for any of Bush's Cabinet appointments. His record has demonstrated that lawmakers' early misgivings were warranted, in particular concerns that the former senator would use his office for ideological purposes.

The federal courts have provided a revealing scorecard. Lowlights include the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the Justice Department's argument that the president alone could determine the fate of enemy combatants, and the court's rejection of the administration's denial of fundamental rights to foreign detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

Ashcroft's unrelenting quest to overturn Oregon's assisted suicide law - contrary to the traditional conservative respect for states' rights - also has been blocked by the courts. In a move that exemplifies his disregard for Oregon voters who have twice approved the state's Death with Dignity Act and the federal courts that repeatedly have upheld it, Ashcroft's office said earlier Tuesday that it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the law.

Ashcroft's departure is welcome news for Oregonians - and all Americans who believe that this nation's attorney general should be wholly dedicated to enforcing the law and not to imposing personal ideology. He will not be missed.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Attorney general put his beliefs above the law
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 11, 2004
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