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Ashcroft and the war on terror kick off NMSU College of Arts and Sciences spring 2006 colloquia

New Mexico State University's College of Arts and Sciences is leading off its spring 2006 colloquia with a discussion of a controversial person and topic: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the use of his office to expand presidential powers in the government's war on terror.

Dr. Nancy Baker, NMSU associate professor of government (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Nine different colloquium events will be held this spring semester from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on various Tuesdays in Room 107 of the NMSU Science Hall. The Ashcroft discussion is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2006.

Nancy Baker, an associate professor of government at NMSU, will lead the discussion on Ashcroft, drawing from her upcoming book, "General Ashcroft: Attorney at War," which will be out in April 2006. The book is being published by University Press of Kansas.

Baker asserts that Ashcroft, the nation's top law official, used his power to expand executive and law enforcement authority as the Bush administration declared a "war on terrorism" in response to the events of September 11, 2001 - or 9/11. This adversely affected separation of powers, government accountability and civil rights.

The timing of this topic is highly relevant with recent reports that the government has been wiretapping U.S. citizens, but without court orders. The Bush administration has said the U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to do so since he is commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces. Furthermore, the president's administration says the Authorization to Use Military Force, passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11, gives the president such powers.

"That incident illustrates the power utilized by attorneys general in claiming a legal basis for broad presidential power," Baker said. "In fact, the administration's legal interpretation is open to challenge and the courts have yet to rule on the issue."
Also, the timing of this first colloquium event is significant since the U.S. House and Senate are scheduled to vote on reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act before Feb. 3, 2006, just three days after the Ashcroft colloquium.

Baker's research focuses on the relationship between law and politics. Most of her work examines the legal role of the U.S. attorney general in the executive branch. Her 1992 book, "Conflicting Loyalties: Law and Politics in the U.S. Attorney General's Office, 1789-1990," was the first comprehensive study of that cabinet position, exploring the tensions in the attorney general's dual roles as chief law officer of the nation and as presidential adviser and aide.

Other colloquia presentations scheduled for this spring semester include:

- "Algebra Through the Ages: Solving the Unsolvable" - Jerry Lodder, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Feb. 14, 2006

- "Inventing Los Alamos" - Jon Hunner, Department of History, Feb. 21, 2006

- "Flying Over Everest: How Do Birds Do It?" - Marvin Bernstein, Department of Biology, Feb. 28, 2006

- "Frank Zappa was Right! Perspectives on the Future of Jazz and Classical Music" - James Shearer, Department of Music, March 14, 2006

- "Crustal Extension and Historical Earthquakes in Central Greece" - Greg Mack, Department of Geological Sciences, March 28, 2006

- "Engine and Enigma: A Learner's Journey" - Kevin McIlvoy, Department of English, April 11, 2006

- "Saving the Ranch: Conservation Easements in New Mexico" - Jack Wright, Department of Geography, April 18, 2006

- "Mexican Descent Youth at the Crossroads of Sameness and Difference: A Mosaic of Youth Cultures and Border Identity" - Cynthia Bejarano, Department of Criminal Justice, April 25, 2006