Today Tony Lewis has

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Today Tony Lewis has a column (pointed out to me by one loyal Talking Points reader) on the Times OpEd page which focuses in on a topic that I’ve left either implicit or unmentioned in my previous discussions of the Ashcroft nomination, both here and in other publications. The point has to do with the torpedoing of the judicial nomination of Ronnie White. As we’ve discussed earlier, it seems very hard to see how race was not a major factor in Ashcroft’s decision to go against White’s nomination.

But was it the only one? Or was it really that simple? Likely not.

Lewis makes the argument – already rehearsed in a number of articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – that White was the victim of John Ashcroft’s reelection campaign against Mel Carnahan.

At the request of the Pope John Paul II, then-governor Carnahan had commuted the sentence of a death-row convict. Ashcroft wanted to make a campaign issue of this commutation, arguing that Carnahan was soft on the death penalty (and, one must assume, also soft on the Pope).

To make the point more forcefully, Ashcroft decided to fight President Clinton’s appointment of Ronnie White – whom Carnahan had earlier appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court – because he was allegedly also, like Carnahan, soft on the death penalty. (Still with me?)

By the way, Lewis also concisely details Ashcroft’s scurrilous and baseless attacks on White’s character and record as a judge.

So does this mean that Ashcroft isn’t guilty of attacking White because of his race but only guilty of shamelessly politicizing the judiciary?

No. Honestly, I think it shows he was guilty of both. Ronnie White’s race just added to the political effect Ashcroft was trying to achieve. So it may be less that Ashcroft had a gut-level problem with White’s race and more that he was trying to use it for political effect.

But think about it this way: Is it worse to have racial animus in your heart? Or just exploit racist fears and animosities to further your political career? Sort of a tough call, isn’t it?

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