Published November 10, 2004
WASHINGTON – Alberto Gonzales (search), known in White House corridors as "The Judge," has seen his fortunes track with George W. Bush's for more than a decade.
As the president said Wednesday in announcing Gonzales as his pick to succeed Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), "I am very grateful he keeps saying 'Yes.'"
The 49-year-old Gonzales has been at Bush's side on and off for almost a decade, chosen by Bush for five high-profile jobs.
It started in 1995 when the then-Texas governor made Gonzales his chief counsel. Gonzales was a corporate lawyer, one of the first two minorities to become a partner in one of the state's largest firms.
Two years later, Bush picked the Harvard-educated son of migrant farm workers to be Texas' secretary of state, the state's top elections official. In 1999, Bush appointed Gonzales to the state Supreme Court.
When Bush moved to the Oval Office in 2001, Gonzales came along as the top lawyer at the White House. He oversaw legal opinions and the selection of judicial nominees.
Described as quiet but practical and thorough, Gonzales has been one of Bush's most trusted advisers. In fact, there had been intense speculation that Gonzales would be Bush's choice in the event of a vacancy on the Supreme Court (search).
As White House counsel, Gonzales has been at the center of developing and defending Bush's approach in fighting terrorism. It is an approach that often angered civil liberties and human rights groups and one which opens Gonzales to some of the same criticism that has dogged Ashcroft.
American Civil Liberties Union (search) executive director Anthony Romero pleaded with the Senate to give Gonzales a "thorough thrashing" in scrutinizing his anti-terrorism work, including development of the Patriot Act.
Romero said there are "serious questions about will Mr. Gonzales dutifully uphold domestic and international obligations that protect civil liberties and human rights."
On the other end of the political spectrum, some conservative lawmakers quietly have questioned Gonzales' anti-abortion credentials. Also, Gonzales once was a partner in a Houston law firm, Vinson & Elkins, which represented energy giant Enron.
But conservative legal experts had nothing but praise for Gonzales on Wednesday.
Richard Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, said Gonzales was a consensus-builder who has fought aggressively to help the country protect itself.
"I'm very happy to see someone succeeding John Ashcroft who is going to be equally committed to fighting the war on terror," Samp said.
Though Gonzales prefers to avoid the limelight, that has not always been the case since.
He wrote a memo on which Bush based a February 2002 decision claiming the right to waive anti-torture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war.
Gonzales was part of Bush's inner circle of advisers in the days leading up to the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War era.
In 1996, Gonzales helped get then-Gov. Bush dismissed from jury duty in a drunken driving case in Austin. It was only later, days before the 2000 presidential election, that it was discovered that Bush had been the subject of a drunken driving arrest himself in 1976 in Maine.
Unlike many top officials in the Bush administration, Gonzales is not independently wealthy. A personal financial disclosure form he filed last spring with the government lists investments valued at somewhere between $72,000 and $381,000; credit card debts of $10,000 to $15,000; and an unsecured home equity loan of $15,000 to $50,000.
Gonzales grew up in a two-bedroom house in Houston with seven siblings. He graduated high school in the 1970s with little thought of college. He enlisted with the Air Force. But after four years he had a change of heart, casting aside his dream of becoming a pilot to pursue a career as a lawyer.