A broad coalition of liberal public policy groups said yesterday it has initiated a campaign against the selection of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General. The plan to defeat Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri, was announced as spokesmen for the coalition said the effort would be the largest ever mounted against a cabinet selection. The groups denounced Ashcroft’s Senate record as extreme and placed Ashcroft at the conservative fringe of his party. Among the positions the coalition condemned were Ashcroft’s opposition to abortion, gay rights and gun control, and his support for the death penalty and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said, “This is the worst executive branch nomination I have ever seen.” The confirmation hearings will begin next Tuesday. One of the first witnesses against Ashcroft is likely to be Justice Ronnie White, the first black justice on the Missouri Supreme Court, who was denied a federal judgeship largely through the efforts of Ashcroft.
In New York, the Giuliani administration has agreed to pay up to $50 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of tens of thousands of people who were illegally strip-searched after being arrested for minor offenses, many of which fell under New York’s crackdown on “quality of life” violations. The searches were conducted by jail guards in Manhattan and Queens during ten months in 1996 and 1997. Many of the victims of the illegal searches were first-time offenders who were arrested for minor infractions like loitering, disorderly conduct or subway offenses. The $50 million class action settlement could be payed out to more than 50,000 people who were arrested during the ten-month period. The lawsuit recounts several cases of men and women with no arrest records who said they felt humiliated as they were ordered to disrobe, to lift their breasts or genitals for visual inspections, and to squat and cough. The settlement would be the largest in a civil rights suit against New York City and appears to be one of the largest civil rights settlements against a municipality anywhere in the country.
The Nebraska Supreme Court has been asked to decide if a county sheriff should have done more to prevent a 1993 murder, which became the subject of the movie Boys Don’t Cry. Teena Brandon, who often dressed as a man, was killed in retaliation for telling the police that two men had raped her after they learned her true gender. The men also killed two others who witnessed Brandon’s death. In a lawsuit, Brandon’s mother JoAnn argues that the former Richardson County sheriff should have arrested John Lotter and Marvin Nissen for rape before they had the chance to kill her daughter. The high court is to hear arguments on Friday.
In Topeka, a newly elected Kansas Board of Education took a step toward restoring evolution to state science curricula, more than a year after causing an uproar over how biology and faith should be taught in the classroom. After more than two hours of debate yesterday, the board decided it would give final approval to the new standards at its February 13 meeting. The new science standards would replace ones adopted in August of ’99 that omitted references to many evolutionary concepts. Kansas is one of several states, including Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska, where school boards have attempted to take evolution out of state science standards or de-emphasize evolutionary concepts.
In Burma, opposition and human rights groups today will begin talks between pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s military rulers. A senior Suu Kyi colleague said both sides must avoid provocations that could harm the dialogue. The United Nations revealed yesterday that the talks had been going on in secret since October. A National League of Democracy executive committee member said, “This is what we’ve been working for. And since it has begun, both sides have to be careful not to do anything to derail the process of confidence building.”
In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder named new health and agriculture ministers today, replacing their embattled predecessors, who left over mishandling of Germany’s escalating mad cow disease crisis. Schroeder said the crisis that led to the hasty resignations yesterday had shown Germany’s entire agricultural industry must be restructured with a view toward the consumer. For years Germany insisted its domestically born herds were free of the disease. About eighty people have died of the brain-wasting disease in Britain alone since the mid-1990s.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, recent days have seen a notable increase in Palestinians wounded or killed as they go about their daily business. Since the start of the new year, at least five people have been killed by gunfire in or near their homes or on their way from work. Human rights groups cite two recent factors that could be contributing to an upsurge in deaths or injuries among those not participating in clashes: severe restrictions on Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank and Gaza and what’s reported to be a freer hand given to Israeli troops deployed in areas that are considered flashpoints. Throughout the wave of violence, which began in late September and has claimed more than 360 lives, the vast majority of them Palestinians, bystanders have occasionally found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. But human rights groups and Palestinians say for the first time such casualties appear to be overtaking those among Palestinians taking part in stone throwing confrontations or gun battles with Israeli troops.