Let's say a
little more about John Ashcroft and Ronnie White.
(Who's Ashcroft? Who's White? See this post.)
A Talking Points Reader took me to task for implying that Ashcroft's opposition to the White nomination was based on White's race. This was a fair criticism. Had White been a black conservative, this reader argued, Ashcroft wouldn't have had any problem with him. The problem was that White was a black liberal or, perhaps better to say, a black non-conservative.
But this sort of makes my point, doesn't it? The question isn't whether White would have sailed through if he were a black conservative. The question is whether White, with his judicial philosophy, would have faced any problems if he were white. The answer, I think, is almost certainly 'no.'
So the problem does seem to have been White's race.
Let's mention some other details.
In the course of Ashcroft's campaign against White, he accused the judge of being ''pro-criminal and activist,'' exuding ''a serious bias against . . . the death penalty,'' and even ''a tremendous bent
toward criminal activity.''
Pretty ugly charges.
Ashcroft also lobbied Missouri law enforcement associations to oppose White's nomination. And then used their opposition as a justification for his opposition.
But here's what really puts the lie to Ashcroft's argument.
Ashcroft's main charge against White was that he was too soft on the death penalty. But consider this paragraph from an article by Stuart Taylor from the National Journal in October 16th, 1999:
Judge White has voted to uphold 70 percent (41) of the 59 death sentences he has reviewed, while voting to reverse the other 18, including 10 that were unanimously reversed and three in which he was the only dissenter. That's a bit below the 75 percent to 81 percent averages of the five current Missouri Supreme Court judges whom Ashcroft himself appointed when he was Governor, according to numbers compiled by the Missouri Democratic Party. It's well above the 53 percent average of Elwood Thomas, the now-deceased Ashcroft appointee whom White replaced in 1995.
In other words, White was at best only marginally more 'lenient' than the judges Ashcroft himself
had appointed while governor.
The best way to state the role race played in Ashcroft's decision comes from one of Ashcroft's former supporters. Gentry Trotter, a black Republican who raised funds for Ashcroft's earlier candidacies, resigned from Ashcroft's 2000 Senate campaign effort because of what he called Ashcroft's "marathon public crucifixion and misinformation campaign of Judge White's record as a competent jurist." He said he suspected Ashcroft had used a "different yardstick" to measure White's record (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8th, 1999). That is to say, one yardstick for whites, one for blacks.
Sounds about right.
Next up, the politics behind Ashcroft's opposition to Ronnie White and some more trash talk about how John Ashcroft just loves Jefferson Davis.