Gonzales Chosen to Replace Ashcroft

Alberto Gonzales
Times Staff Writer

President Bush nominated his White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to be his second-term attorney general, choosing a loyal friend and defender who has been a quietly aggressive advocate for strengthening Bush’s powers as a wartime commander.

Gonzales, 49, has been a confidant of Bush for nearly a decade, serving as his chief legal advisor during his first term as Texas governor, and later as a Bush-appointed justice on the Texas Supreme Court. The son of migrant workers, he would become the first Latino attorney general, upon being confirmed by the Senate.

By contrast with John Ashcroft, whose resignation Bush accepted Tuesday, Gonzales is considered a social moderate, whose credentials have been questioned by the religious right. But he is also expected to continue the department’s aggressive war on terror.

“As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Al will continue our administration’s great progress in fighting crime, in strengthening the FBI, in improving our domestic efforts in the war on terror,” Bush said in introducing the nominee. “As a steward of civil rights laws, he will ensure that Americans are protected from discrimination so that each person has the opportunity to live the American dream, as Al himself has done.”

“The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law, and there should be no question regarding the department’s commitment to justice for every American,” Gonzales added. The men did not respond to questions.

The nomination is likely to resonate with the growing plurality of Latino voters who endorsed Bush in the presidential election last week. And it brought relief from religious conservatives who have been alarmed by months of speculation that Bush intended to elevate Gonzales to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But he is also expected to face opposition from human-rights groups at his confirmation hearings for his role in setting administration policy on the rights of suspected terrorists, and the creation of military tribunals in Cuba.

Prior to serving in the White House, Gonzales was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, according to his official biography. Before his judicial appointment, he was Texas’ 100th Secretary of State from Dec. 2, 1997, to Jan. 10, 1999. Among his duties in that job, Gonzales was a senior advisor to then-Gov. Bush, chief elections officer, and the governor’s lead liaison on Mexico and border issues.

He was a partner with the law firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, Texas, joining the firm in June 1982. While in private practice, Gonzales also taught law as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

Gonzales was born in San Antonio, Texas, and raised in Houston. He is a graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School. Gonzales served in the United States Air Force from 1973 to 1975, and afterward attended the United States Air Force Academy. He is married to Rebecca and is the father of three sons.

Times Staff Writer Michael Muskal contributed to this story.