"With the Emerson case now pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, anything that the Attorney General says with respect to the Second Amendment is of mroe than passing interest," Barnes said in a written statement. "What's at stake here is the integrity of the U.S. Department of Justice."
Barnes and Harshbarger's complaint was accompanied by a letter written by Georgetown University Law Professor Samuel Dash.
"Attorney General John Ashcroft now, in an extrajudicial communication, has advocated a legal position challenging the constitutionality of that statute and, in effect, supporting the dismissal of the indictment," wrote Dash, a legal ethcis expert. "This act of disloyalty to his client, the United States, constitutes an impermissible conflict of interest."
But the Justice Department insists Ashcroft did no such thing and that the complaint against him is "based on inaccurate information."
"We haven't changed our position on the Emerson case at all," said Mindy Tucker, director of public affairs for the departmment. "We don't have to change our position on this case in any way."
She argued Ashcroft's position that the Constitution guarantees an "individual" right to bear arms does not conflict with the gun control statute in question.
"He believes they are reasonable restrictions to gun ownership," Tucker said of the attorney general. "But he does believe it's an individual and not a collective right — those are not mutually exclusive."