Transcript: Exclusive Interview with Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General

Alberto Gonzales
TONY SNOW: Mr. Attorney General, great to have you on. Thanks for joining us.

ALBERTO GONZALES: How are you doing?

SNOW: I'm great. You and I have not had the pleasure of seeing each other in a while, and it's good to have you on.

Number one, there's a story today in "Roll Call" that indicates that some Republican senators may be willing to make a deal, under which, they would essentially throw overboard three people who have already been nominated by the president in exchange for promises to go ahead and have up-or-down votes on the floor for every other judicial nominee of the president, except in what they call extreme circumstances. Would the president accept such a deal?

GONZALES: Oh, I don't know, Tony. That's something that apparently is being discussed. I'm not aware of the contents of those discussions. Our view is pretty simple, and that is that every nominee should receive an up-or-down vote. And I think no matter who controls the White House, no matter who controls the Senate, the president's position has been fairly clear, and that is he feels — he has an obligation to nominate good people, which he feels like he's done. And we believe the Senate has an obligation to provide an up-or-down vote as a matter of fairness to the nominees, as a matter of fairness to the American people who deserve to have these judicial vacancies filled as quickly as possible.

SNOW: Now, some Republicans are arguing that Republicans in the past have filibustered judicial nominees. Do they have their facts wrong?

GONZALES: Well, you know, there are all kinds of ways you can characterize various past actions, depending on, you know, the time of year they occurred and things of that nature. My own personal view, Tony, is that there has been mistreatment by both sides in the past. And the president has been very consistent about this. No matter who controls the White House or who controls the Senate, this is a matter of fairness. People ought to get an up-or-down vote within a reasonable period of time, and that's all that we're asking for. I think it's what the American people expect. They expect the president and the members of the Senate to do their job.

SNOW: Mr. Attorney General, Democrats love to recite a criticism that you made of Priscilla Owen, who is on the Texas Supreme Court and has been nominated for the U.S. District Court of Appeals by the president of the United States, to the effect that she is a judicial activist. What is your response to that?

GONZALES: Well, I've been very consistent about this. I was not referring to Priscilla Owen. What I was — what I said, and this is what I said in my Senate confirmation hearings to be attorney general, was that in reading what I believe the Texas legislature intended when it passed that statute, that it would have been an act of judicial activism on my part not to rule they way that I did.

And so I've been very consistent and very clear in saying that I think that Justice Owen would be a fine member of the 5th Circuit. I think she is deserving and would do a great job. And I think she deserves an up-or-down vote.

SNOW: What I have been led to understand, and we have seen this before, is that there are a number of people that Democrats are opposed to, and they seem to fall into several categories -- that is, categories that typically vote for Democrats: women, Hispanics, other minority groups. Do you see any evidence that there is a deliberate targeting of people based on sex or racial classifications to try to keep them off the bench?

GONZALES: I don't. And I would not attribute that kind of bias to any member of the Senate, quite frankly. But I do believe that I think there is politics involved here, and that's something that's always been the case, as far as I'm concerned, when you talk about holding up a judge. These are folks, in my judgment, that are well qualified. They've all been rated — I think all but one of the people being filibustered or being blocked have been rated well qualified by the American Bar Association, which as you know, certain members of the Senate, Democrats, have characterized as the gold standard of judicial evaluations. And so — and we know that if they received an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, they would be confirmed. And so it is inaccurate to say they're out of the mainstream. These are folks that, in my judgment, are very good, solid judges, and they would do a good job, if confirmed.

SNOW: All right. And, General, have you received communication from Senate leaders that would indicate to you that they are in fact going to get the so-called up-or-down votes?

GONZALES: You know, in terms of direct communication, no. I mean, obviously we have discussions, but our message back to the Senate leaders is pretty clear, and that is, you know, how you get it resolved is an internal Senate matter. What we're focused on is making sure that the president's nominees receive up-or-down votes. I mean, that's the thing we — that's sort of our mantra. How that's accomplished, we leave to the Senate.

SNOW: Mr. Attorney General, the Drudge Report has up the fact that the president or others have been told, think about having at least two Supreme Court vacancies. It's my sense that you guys could face as many as two to four Supreme Court vacancies during this presidency, couldn't you?

GONZALES: Well, someone mentioned that report to me this morning. I had not seen it. We have been preparing for quite some time for vacancies on the court, as you might imagine, Tony. And so, you know, we're doing the work that is absolutely necessary to put the White House, the administration in the best place possible to provide good nominations, good recommendations to the president and so that he can nominate good people to the court when and if there's a vacancy, whether or not it's one or more.

SNOW: You know your name has come up?

GONZALES: Really? For the Supreme Court?

SNOW: Perhaps you're aware of this?

GONZALES: I've got a great job and am very happy with attorney general. Been here less than 100 days. And I think I'll focus on that.

SNOW: I knew that's the answer I'd get, but I thought I'd give it a flier anyway.


SNOW: Tom DeLay — and I guess I'm sort of sympathetic to this argument, has said, you know, we've got a lot of judges who have gone beyond the pale in trying to create law rather than to read it. Do you think the idea of impeaching judges for excessive activism; do you think that's a starter or a non-starter?

GONZALES: Oh, I think, you know, through the history of this republic, there have been criticisms of judicial decisions from time to time. And that will continue I'm sure. Every time the judge makes a decision, there's going to be someone that's going to be unhappy. I think that kind of debate is -- is to be expected. And we should expect our judges to do their job. Judges are going to be criticized, always have been. That's one of the reasons the Framers gave them lifetime tenure, so that they could do their job without fear.

SNOW: But do you think when they do not do their job, that impeachment might be an appropriate remedy?

GONZALES: Well, I — obviously, we'd have to look at each case, case by case. I mean, that is, of course, an extreme action and should be reserved for the most extreme, egregious behavior.

I think, by and large, judges do a wonderful job. I think that if you poll, the public opinion would say that judges are held in higher esteem than most other government officials. And so I think that they do a good job. I think they work very hard, and I have the utmost respect for our judges.

SNOW: The final question, yes or no. Do you think the president will get his judges through?

GONZALES: I think the president's nominees, any president's nominees, should all receive up-or-down votes within a reasonable period of time.

SNOW: Think they'll get them?

GONZALES: I'm optimistic that's going to happen. I think — I think we need — again, we have too many vacancies that have been declared judicial emergencies, and they need to be filled as quickly as possible.

SNOW: Alberto Gonzales, attorney general of the United States. It has been a pleasure to have you aboard. Thanks for joining us.

GONZALES: Thanks, Tony.

SNOW: Well, friends, that's a wrap for this show. As always, don't be a stranger.