FindLaw Newsmaker Profiles - John Ashcroft
JOHN ASHCROFT
Attorney General of the United States
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The Thomson Legal Record for John Ashcroft
Providing the complete litigation record for John Ashcroft
Born: May 9, 1942, Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: United States Attorney General
Prior Public Service: United States Senator, Missouri (1995-2000); Governor, Missouri (1985-1993); Attorney General, Missouri (1976-1985); Assistant Attorney General, Missouri (1975-1976); State Auditor, Missouri (1973-1975)
Education: B.A. with honors, Yale University, 1964
J.D., University of Chicago, 1967
Newsmaker Profile:

       University of Chicago-trained lawyer John Ashcroft may best be remembered for his post-9/11 work as U.S. Attorney General. In a relatively short time, the Missouri native played a key role in implementing a new anti-terror law that remains the subject of civil liberties groups’ legal challenges, the U.S.A. Patriot Act, while prosecuting probably more terror-related cases than any other state or federal Attorney General in history.

      Like most Attorneys General, Ashcroft has been a frequent litigant while in office (view Ashcroft’s Thomson Legal Record). He continues to play a lead role in the Justice Department’s transformation following 9/11, facing criticism and support. U.S. Attorneys bringing terror-related prosecutions under Ashcroft have relied upon a 1996 federal law, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which criminalizes “providing material support or resources” to terrorist groups.

      In a number of cases, federal prosecutors have used the law successfully to achieve plea agreements and convictions. The cases against the so-called American Talib, John Walker Lindh, and a Chicago-based Islamic charity fundraiser, Anaam M. Arnaout, both relied upon the statute to secure convictions after each was charged with providing “material support” to al Qaeda.

      But some federal judges have criticized the law. In one federal district in California, a judge ruled that it was unconstitutional. In another recent ruling in Florida, a federal judge ruled that had “grave concerns about the constitutionality” of the material-support law used by federal prosecutors to indict a former university professor accused of helping finance terrorist activities of at least one organization listed on the State Department’s list of outlawed terrorist groups.

      Ashcroft is also widely known for his conservative interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He believes the framers intended that law to support a person’s right to privately possess a gun. In a 2001 letter to the National Rifle Association’s Executive Director he stated “unequivocally, that the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.”

      At the same, time, he told U.S. Senator Feinstein (D. – Ca.) at his Senate confirmation hearings that he would support the Justice Department’s position in support of the assault weapons ban.

      In 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld California’s strict ban on assault weapons (Silveira v. Locker), a position that rankled Ashcroft’s gun-rights supporters. One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed gun advocates’ attempts to appeal the ruling.

      Ashcroft remains an outspoken proponent of the “right to bear arms,” and while the Justice Department has lost control over immigration affairs and other matters that are now the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”), responsible for oversight of firearms, remains under Ashcroft’s authority at the Justice Department.

      As Missouri Attorney General, John Ashcroft appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983 to defend a Missouri law imposing restrictions on abortion. The Court rejected Ashcroft's argument. (Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, 1983) . With an avowed personal opposition to abortion. Ashcroft told Senator Dianne Feinstein during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings that he has “adopted a variety of positions to try and reduce the number of children being aborted.”

      He remains a strong defender of President Bush’s federal anti-abortion law, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Three federal lawsuits immediately challenged the law, successfully enjoining its implementation. Under Ashcroft’s leadership, the Justice Department already filed a notice to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision for the Ninth Circuit, which held that the law was an unconstitutional limitation on a woman’s right to choose whether to abort or carry out her pregnancy.

      Ashcroft led the Justice Department’s defense of a federal cyberlaw, the Child Online Protection Act (“COPA”), enacted by Congress in an attempt to confront the dangers posed by pedophiles and others to children who venture online. In a 5-4 decision (Ashcroft v. ACLU, 2004), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the government failed to show that there were “"less restrictive alternatives" to COPA, justifying its enjoinment, and noting that “there is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech” if the law goes into effect.

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