I believe in John Ashcroft.
Never in my Constitution-loving, liberal-leaning, NPR-listening life did I think I would say those words. After Ashcroft helped write the infamous Patriot Act–reviled by librarians across the nation–the Bush Administration’s first attorney general appeared unlikely to take the Constitution very seriously. John Ashcroft seemed to be exhibit one in the Bush White House’s claim that the global war on terrorism was a different kind of war that required a different kind of strategy. Perhaps even a different kind of Constitution.
I have devoted my entire adult life to studying the U.S. Constitution and reflecting on the various ways it has been bent and even broken during times of national crisis. I expected that after the 9-11 attacks a new set of constitutional challenges would once again test our moral fiber. My husband was working in the Pentagon on that day, so I had a front-row seat to America’s debate on national security versus civil liberty.
But I didn’t expect an ideological conservative like John Ashcroft to defend my civil liberties on his hospital bed, while the White House tried to strong-arm him into approving a warrantless surveillance program. Nor did I expect other high-ranking officials in the Bush Justice Department to join Ashcroft in his stand.
That night–and we may never know exactly what was involved–John Ashcroft fulfilled his obligation as attorney general to defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Even when that included the president of the United States.
For the Constitution to mean anything, it has to be a minumum standard beneath which no Congress, no president, no Supreme Court may fall, even in time of war. Especially in time of war.
Thank you, John Ashcroft. Because of you, I have faith in the Constitution once more.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.