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Hispanic Heritage

Alberto Gonzales

Also known as: Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Gonzales
Birth: August 4, 1955 in San Antonio, Texas
Occupation: lawyer, judge, attorney general

A corporate lawyer for much of his career, Alberto R. Gonzales became George Bush's general counsel when Bush served as governor of Texas. When Bush became President of the United States in 2000, he tapped Gonzales to serve once again as the first H ispanic American to be named general counsel to the White House. Gonzales, whose father grew up as a migrant farm worker, has served on the Texas Supreme Court and has been mentioned as a possible nominee to replace U.S. Supreme Court justices who may be on the verge of retiring. "He's going extraordinary places awfully fast," Texas appellate lawyer Doug Alexander told Chitra Ragavan for U.S. News & World Report.

First to Attend College

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Gonzales grew up in Houston. Neither of his parents finished elementary school, and Gonzales's father died from a work accident in 1982. "I used to get up early to have breakfast with my father before he left to catch a r ide to his construction job and I would patiently wait for his return usually after dark," Gonzales remarked on a Website maintained by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. "My father worked six days a week for most of his life, harder than any person I've known."

After graduating from high school, Gonzales joined the U.S. Air Force. While he was stationed in Alaska, two Air Force Academy graduates told him he should seek an appointment to the Academy. Gonzales entered the Academy, but soon found out that his vision was no longer good enough to become a pilot. As a result, he turned his attention to a career in law and applied to Rice University.

"At the age of 12, I got a job selling soft drinks at Rice Stadium," Gonzales told Anita Davis for an article that appeared on the State Bar of Texas Website. "At the end of the game, I would climb to the top of the stands and watch all the students go back to their dorms. I dreamed of being a student there one day."

This dream came truen when he not only applied to Rice, but also graduated in 1979. Gonzales was the first in his family to attend college, but he didn't stop there. Upon graduation, he went on to Harvard Law School. He then joined the firm of Vinso n & Elkins, LLP and practiced general corporate business law with the firm for the next thirteen years.

Became Bush's Friend and Ally

In 1990, he gained the attention of Bush's father, then President George Bush, but refused a job offer at the White House to remain in private practice and focus on making partner at the law firm. However, when the younger Bush offered him the oppor tunity to be legal counsel for the governor five years later, Gonzales accepted.

"I had come to the point in my life (in 1994) where I felt I had done well in my profession but I didn't feel like I was doing much with my legal degree," Gonzales told Davis. "I wasn't really making a difference."

Over the next five years, Bush showed strong support for Gonzales, eventually appointing him to Texas secretary of state and then a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. "In many ways, Al embodies the American dream," Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review, quoted Bush as saying of Gonzales. There was little doubt that Gonzales had become part of Bush's innermost circle when Bush called on Gonzales again, in 2000, to serve as the White House counsel.

Traditionally, the counsel to the White House usually garners little media attention unless there is a scandal. As described by Daniel Klaidman and Tamara Lipper in Newsweek, "the president's lawyer typically offers discre et advice on legislation and helps the White House staff steer clear of ethical land mines." Nevertheless, Gonzales came to be scrutinized by Republicans, Democrats and journalists when speculations arose that he might be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Cou rt after the possible retirements of one or two Supreme Court judges.

With Possible Appointment Came Scrutiny

Scrutiny is inherent when talking about the highest court in the land, where decisions have many policy and political ramifications. Since arriving in the nation's capital, Gonzales had taken a strong conservative approach that reflected the Bush Ad ministration. For example, according to Ryan Lizza in the New Republic, "Gonzales has taken political ownership of a host of...conservative issues." These issues include supporting expanding the authority of the executive branch of government such as insulating the presidency from records requests, including requests from Congress and the General Accounting Office. Gonzales also notified the American Bar Association that its official role in judicial nominations was coming to an end.

If nominated, Gonzales's record and opinions will certainly be examined closely by Democrats and liberals, but many Republicans and conservatives have also expressed concern. Despite his ultra-conservative record in Washington, Gonzales was a modera te when he served on the Texas Supreme Court, particularly raising the ire of conservatives when he voted with a majority of the court that some teenage girls did not have to adhere to a Texas law stating that minors had to get their parents' permission f or an abortion.

As reported by John Spong in Texas Monthly, Gonzales wrote, "While the ramifications of such a law may be personally troubling to me as a parent, it is my obligation as a judge to impartially apply the laws of this state w ithout imposing my moral view on the decisions of the Legislature."

Lizza also noted, "Everything in Gonzales's record prior to his arrival in Washington suggest he is a moderate jurist uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the kind of conservative judicial activism identified with Justices Antonio Scalia and Clarence T homas."

In addition to being mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, Gonzales's name has also come up as a possible appointment for attorney general of the United States, if the spot becomes open. Although he has long worked at keeping his personal o pinions in the background when serving in public roles, his opinions are likely to come to the forefront if nominated to the Supreme Court.

As Lizza pointed out, "Alberto Gonzales...has the misfortune to be a potential Supreme Court pick at a time when the window of political acceptability--between being too liberal to be nominated and too conservative to be confirmed--is narrower than ever before."

In 2005, Gonzalez was confirmed to be attorney general by the U.S. Senate.

Awards

Latino Lawyer of the Year, Hispanic National Bar Association, 1999.

Further Readings

Periodicals

  • National Review, April 30, 2001.
  • New Republic, May 27, 2002.
  • Newsweek, December 30, 2002.
  • Texas Monthly, June, 2001.
  • U.S. News & World Report, March 12, 2001.

Online

  • "Al Gonzales: Once and Again Bush's General Counsel," State Bar of Texas, http://www.texasbar.com/globals/tbj/2001/feb01/gonzales.asp (March 29, 2003).
  • "Alberto R. Gonzales (1955-)," las Culturas.com, http://www.lasculturas.com/aa/bio/bioAlGonzales.php (April 25, 2002).
  • "Bush Names First Latino Appoitnment," Politico Magazine Online, December 18, 2000, http://www.politicomagazine.com/gonzaleza121500.html (March 29, 2003).
  • "Remarks by Alberto Gonzalez," White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, http://www.yic.gov/releases/video/gonzalez.html (March 29, 2003).

SOURCE CITATION

Biography Resource Center Online. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

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