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Alberto R. Gonzales

Just last Wednesday (November 10, 2004), newly reelected president, George W. Bush, announced his nomination of Alberto Gonzales for the position of U.S. Attorney General.  Gonzales will replace John Ashcroft who has resigned from the post.  A long-time friend and confidante to President Bush, their relationship goes back for more than 10 years.  Gonzales has served as Bush’s chief counsel since 1995, when Bush was Governor of Texas, and has been working in some capacity close to Bush since then.  In 1995-1997 he served as Texas secretary of state; Between 1997-1999 he was appointed a judge on Texas Supreme Court; and since 1999 he has served as counsel to the president.  

As soon as his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, and by all indications, he will be, Mr. Gonzales will get his chance to perform in one of the most visible and influential jobs in the United States, and arguably, the world.  Both Democrats and Republicans see Gonzales as a controversial figure, as many people expect many rocky roads ahead during his term.  Although at the same time, the same people see Gonzales as a dramatic improvement over John Ashcroft.  Senator and losing Democratic Presidential Candidate, John Kerry said that Ashcrot was ”one of the most divisive faces in this administration. With the end of the era of John Ashcroft, the President now has an opportunity to heal those divisions and make good on his promise of renewed bipartisan co-operation”. 

However, many opponents of albert gonzales’ nomination, believe that he is going to cause as much damage as Ashcroft, in regards to the infringement of civil liberties.  Several groups have already announced opposition to Gonzales including the Center for Constitu7tional Rights, People for the American Way and Human Rights First.  Opponents are quick to point out that of all the pool of applicants, Bush selected his personal lawyer in Gonzales, who will likely become the lawyer of the nation.  Gonzales has also worked as lawyer for the controversial company, Halliburton, and has worked for the heavily corrupted energy giant, Enron.

Gonzales was a pivotal figure in getting the US’s Patriot Act passed and launched into action following the September 11th attacks.  The Patriot Act was a law that essentially allowed officials to arrest, detain, and interrogate anybody on the grounds of suspicion of terrorism.  The Act has been targeted by many civil rights organizations as being unconstitutional and unsuccessful – it has seen the arrests of thousands of people, usually of Arab or Muslim backgrounds, who were found to be innocent on charges.   

Gonzales gained notoriety after paving the legal groundwork that led to the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib.  He has been a central figure in the Bush’s administration’s debate over interrogation techniques for prisoners held in the war on terrorism.  He wrote a memorandum to the president in 2002 that has been highly contentious by human-rights groups.  His memo said the war against terrorism was a "new kind of war" that renders ”obsolete” Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders "quaint" some of its provisions afforded to prisoners and commissary rights.  Gonzales also argued that the pain caused by interrogation must include "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions, in order to constitute torture".

This highlights Gonzales’ legal thinking which demonstrates his willingness to adopt highly aggressive interpretations of the law in the fight against terrorism.

Many Republicans are also weary about Alberto Gonzales’ moderate views pertaining to abortion or affirmative action.  Gonzales was part of a majority vote in the Roe v. Wade case that was presented to the Texas Supreme Court.  He case granted a 17-year-old girl a waiver to a state law that required a minor to inform her parents for seeking an abortion.  Gonzales is a strong advocate of affirmative action.  He had squabbled with conservatives over this issue during an admission controversy at the University of Michigan that came before the Supreme Court in 2003.  Gonzales argued fiercely that the administration should not take a hard-line position in favor of the white students who were claiming that the school had made them victims of "reverse discrimination".    

Lets take a look at Alberto R. Gonzales’ life from humble beginnings to his rise to becoming the highest-ranking government official of Hispanic descent. 

Alberto Gonzales Biography

Born on August 4th, 1955 in San Antonio to Pablo and Maria Gonzales.  Both parents were hardworking Mexican migrant workers.  Alberto was one of eight children.  He grew up in North Houston in a house built by his father and two uncles, sharing two bedrooms with 10 family members.

An honor student in high school, Gonzales joined the Air Force and was posted to Fort Yukon, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, following high school.  He won an appointment to the Air Force Academy, but after two years he grew restless studying science.  In 1977 he transferred to Rice University, where he earned a degree in political science in 1979.  He then was accepted to prestigious Harvard Law School where he earned a law degree in 1982.   

He returned to Houston after receiving his law degree and began work at one of the premier law firms in Texas, Vinson & Elkins.  In 1994, Gonzales was named general counsel to then-Texas Governor George W. Bush.  He worked that position until 1997, when Bush named him Texas Secretary of State.  As Governor Bush’s counsel in Texas from 1994-1997, Gonzales was responsible for reviewing all clemency requests.  Recently an article in The Atlantic Monthly in 2003, alleged that Gonzales gave insufficient counsel, failed to take into consideration a wide array of factors, and actively worked against clemency in a number of borderline cases.  

The article points out that Gonzales may have left out many details that would be considered critical for then-Governor Bush to determine whether a prisoner would be executed such as factors of mental illness of incompetence, childhood abuse, remorse, and rehabilitation.  Additionally, investigations found Mr Gonzales "repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence".  Consequently, the State of Texas has executed more prisoners during Gonzales’ and Bush’s term – 56 of them – that included Terry Washington, a 33-year-old mentally retarded man with the communications skills of a seven-year-old. 

In 1999, Governor Bush appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court.  This was a surprising and controversial announcement given that Gonzales had no prior judiciary experience.  When Bush was elected to his first presidency term, he appointed Gonzales to his general counsel.   He has served at this position prior to his nomination for U.S. Attorney General. 

Gonzales has been married twice.  He divorced his first wife, Diane Clemens in 1985, and has since married Rebecca Turner, with whom they have three sons.

Alberto R. Gonzales Civic Accomplishments and Accolades

·        Elected to the American Law Institute in 1999.

·        Board trustee of the Texas Bar Foundation from 1996 to 1999

·        Board director for the State Bar of Texas from 1991 to 1994

·        President of the Houston Hispanic Bar Association from 1990 to 1991.

·        Board director of the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast from 1993 to 1994

·        President of Leadership Houston from 1993 to 1994

·        Chair of the Commission for District Decentralization of the Houston Independent School District in 1994 

·        Member of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions for Rice University.

·        Special Legal Counsel to the Houston Host Committee for the 1990 Summit of Industrialized Nations

·        Delegate for the American Council of Young Political Leaders to Mexico in 1996 and to the People’s Republic of China in 1995.

·        Inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003

·        Good Neighbor Award from the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce

·        Received President’s Awards from the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens 

·        Distinguished Alumnus of Rice University by the Association of Rice Alumni in 2002 

·        Harvard Law School Association Award in 2002

·        Latino Lawyer of the Year in 2002 by the Hispanic National Bar Association

·        Received a Presidential Citation from the State Bar of Texas in 1997

·        Chosen as one of the Five Outstanding Young Texans by the Texas Jaycees in 1994

·        Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas by the Texas Young Lawyers Association in 1992 

·        United Way Commitment to Leadership Award in 1993

·        Received the Hispanic Salute Award in 1989 from the Houston Metro Ford Dealers for his work in the field of education.