May 27, 2003

RADLEY BALKO WRITES on John Ashcroft’s fair-weather federalism:

The problem with Attorney General Ashcroft — and the reason I write about him today — is that his record as Attorney General thus far has shown him to be a man completely unsympathetic to the tenets of federalism when they happen conflict with his own, personal values. . . .

Ashcroft’s supporters counter that as Attorney General, his job is to uphold and enforce the federal code — whether or not he agrees with a particular law isn’t important. But that’s a bit naïve. Like any other cabinet head, the Attorney General works with a budget, with limited resources. He hasn’t nearly enough capital or prosecutors to go after every infraction of the federal criminal code (which, thanks in no small part to allegedly federalist-minded Republicans, is expanding exponentially). Consequently, Attorney General Ashcroft actually makes policy when he chooses which federal laws he’s going to actively enforce, and to what extent.

John Ashcroft’s decision to devote considerably large swaths of DOJ time and resources to challenging state drug and assisted-suicide laws he feels are too liberal can’t be dismissed with the likes of “he’s just doing his job.” He chose to set examples in California and Oregon because he felt DOJ resources were better utilized challenging those laws than, for example, investigating al-Qaeda sleeper cells.

Indeed.

UPDATE: Roger Simon has some thoughts.