Gonzales: Attorney General for the Country or for Bush?
By Domenico Maceri
George W. Bush has said a number of times that he admires judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas because he believes their judicial philosophy centers on of the strict interpretation of the law. His appointment of Alberto Gonzales as US Attorney General reveals the opposite. Gonzales has a long history of stretching the law for political purposes, particularly to help his friend who nominated him.The role of Attorney General is to be the nation's chief enforcement officer. Given Gonzales' history of friendship and activist interpretation of the law raise serious concerns about his balanced approach in serving the country and his friend.Bush and Gonzales grew up in different circumstances. Bush is the son of privilege who studied at the best schools not because of his great intellect but rather his position in society.Gonzales, on the other hand, is the son of poor migrant Mexican farm workers. He attended college because of his ability and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School. Gonzales' use of the law for political purposes began in Texas. In 1996, while serving as governor of the Lone Star State, George Bush was called to serve on a jury in a drunk driving case. Gonzales, who was serving as counsel to Bush, arranged to get him off the case because as governor he had the power to pardon a defendant and therefore could not decide if the accused was guilty or innocent.
|US President George W. Bush (right) and White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales Courtesy Newsweek|
Bush was dismissed from the case and did not have to answer questions under oath about drunk driving. Several years later it was discovered that Bush had been arrested for drunk driving. Had that revelation come out, his rise in the GOP and eventual presidency might have been jeopardized.Although Gonzales has been effective in providing "practical" legal advise to Bush, his service to justice for those at the low end of the economic ladder is another story. In Texas, Gonzales wrote memos to advise Governor Bush in death penalty cases that reached his desk about granting or denying clemency. Although these memos were considered to be protected by the Attorney-Client Privilege, journalist Alan Berlow was able to obtain copies under the Public Information Act. His analysis in an article published in the Atlantic Monthly reveals a pattern of superficial summaries, which provided Bush little information about the special circumstances of the cases. Often, the convicted individuals had had weak defenses at trial and in one case a retarded man was executed. For someone who grew up poor and knows first hand how the lack of opportunities may lead to disadvantages in law, one has to wonder about Gonzales' commitment to justice for all including the underdog.Gonzales' most recent and serious concern is his stretching the law to support Bush in his fight against terrorism. Gonzales has described the Geneva Convention as "obsolete" and "quaint." In his role as White House Counsel, Gonzales has helped craft the legal arguments that "enemy combatants" could be held without the right to see a lawyer. In 2002 Gonzales also put forth the argument that international torture laws did not apply to Al Quaeda and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan.
|Alberto R. Gonzales|
Many people believe that these positions about limiting legal rights have led to the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, which gave America a gigantic black eye around the world.Democrats have shown little negative reaction to Gonzales' nomination, suggesting that a confirmation will be likely. If they are smart, though, they may want to grill Gonzales. Although they may not want to spend their energies on filibustering, their strong opposition may send Bush a message about nominating very conservative judges to the Supreme Court. As Attorney General, Gonzales will have a strong impact on the legal system of the country. The impact on the country from the Supreme Court Justices will be felt much longer after Gonzales' term as Attorney general will have expired.
|Gonzales at the 55th Biennial College Republican National Convention July 23, 2003 Courtesy AP|
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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.