JEFFERSON CITY - In his first meeting with press since the rejection of Justice Ronnie White's bid for a federal judgeship, Gov Mel Carnahan called the actions of Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., "politics at it's worst."
Ashcroft was instrumental in rallying support for the defeat of White's nomination in the Senate on Tuesday, claiming that White's track record shows a soft stance on the death penalty.
"It was done at the leadership of Sen. Ashcroft in some sort of desperation effort to save his political career. That's character assassination at it's worst. It's simply not a good day for democracy," said Carnahan.
Carnahan has said he plans to challenge Ashcroft for his seat in the Senate in the 2000 election.
David James, spokesman for Ashcroft said, "Senator Ashcroft did not have to prompt anybody at all. The law enforcement community of Missouri made it very well known that they opposed Judge White's nomination."
White, the first African American judge to sit on Missouri's Supreme Court, was the first nominee in 12 years to be rejected.
"I think it's a very sad day when the United States Senate takes the crass political action that it took to really wreak the career of a very fine judge, a very fine human being," Carnahan said.
According to a Washington Post report, President Clinton denounced the move as "a disgraceful act" tinged by racial consideration because the nominee was African American.
Carnahan said statistically, it was true that minorities and women had a harder time being confirmed by the Republican US Senate. "Senator Leahy has made that point repeatedly," said Carnahan.
The Washington Post reported Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat as having said earlier that he hoped the country had not reverted to a time in it's history where there was a color test on nominations.
"Gov Carnahan and his buddy Bill Clinton lost a very fairly debated contest on a floor of The United States Senate," said James. "I would challenge Gov. Carnahan to come forward with evidence to suggest that this decision wasn't based on simply the facts of the case which is Judge White's judicial record."
Carnahan said Ashcroft had been outspoken against Judge White for some time although Ashcroft's appointees to The Missouri Supreme Court had voted to reverse the death penalty 124 times while White had done so only 17 times. "It's predictably important that he singled out Judge White which I think is a very dangerous thing to do." "His statistics just don't hold water," Carnahan said.