WASHINGTON – Attorney General John Ashcroft is running a dead heat with A. Mitchell Palmer, attorney general in the Wilson administration, for the distinction of being the worst in that job in the history of the United States.

One of the duties of the attorney general as head of the Justice Department is to protect the Constitution. Both Mr. Ashcroft and Palmer found that the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, got in their way more than it protected anything. It has gotten in Ashcroft’s way in his pursuit of terrorists after Sept. 11, especially those who dress differently and practice a different religion. Palmer’s crusade was the pursuit of communists, in the aftermath of World War I. He especially went after people with what to him were funny names from Eastern Europe. He tended to equate liberals with communists.

Ashcroft’s vehicle is the USA Patriot Act, which Congress, abdicating its own duties of vigilance, passed with a whoop and a holler in the days after Sept. 11. Even the name of this odious legislation is offensive. It implies that the purpose of the act is to promote patriotism and that those not cooperating with it are somehow less patriotic…


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