President Bush’s pick to succeed Attorney General John Ashcroft may not sit well with religious conservatives, whose turnout at the polls is credited as playing a major role in the Bush’s re-election.
Wire services reported Wednesday that Bush had chosen White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, a longtime friend of the president and former Texas Supreme Court judge.
Ashcroft, who submitted his resignation letter Tuesday, is an evangelical Christian who is popular with the religious right. Gonzales, a moderate who has long been rumored as a possible candidate for the Supreme Court, is viewed with suspicion by conservatives who question whether he agrees with their views on abortion and affirmative action.
James Dobson of Focus on the Family said last weekend on ABC News “This Week” that Gonzales would not be an acceptable choice for appointment to the Supreme Court. Asked why, Dobson replied: “Well, there are a lot of reasons. Comments that he’s made. I was in the audience on one occasion when he said that the Constitution could be set aside for a time if necessary. Things of that nature. We just don’t see him as the kind of Supreme Court justice that’s going to be needed.”
Criticism of Gonzales focuses on two fronts.
One is his role as the tie-breaking vote in a case testing a Texas law requiring minors to get permission from at least one parent before having an abortion. Gonzales opined without comment that a 17-year-old girl met a requirement allowing a judge to waive parental notification if it could lead to abuse.
Dissenters complained that the majority’s broad definition of the judicial waiver gutted the Parental Notification Act. Gonzales warned that adopting the dissenters’ position “would be an unconscionable act of judicial activisim.” Defenders of Gonzales, however, say he was only interpreting the law and is not an advocate for abortion rights.
In 2003, Gonzales was credited with weakening the Bush administration’s brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case over the University of Michigan law school’s system of favoring minorities in admissions. Conservatives such as Solicitor General Theodore Olson wanted the White House to argue that using racial preferences to achieve diversity is unconstitutional. Gonzales disagreed.
Some viewed the weakening of the administration’s argument as a factor in the court’s 5-4 ruling upholding the university’s admissions policy.
“I hope the muddled Supreme Court decision which followed the muddled Bush administration brief will end the muddled candidacy of Al Gonzales for a seat on the Supreme Court when an opening occurs,” said former Republican Party presidential nomination contender Gary Bauer.
Bauer went on to say that in the case “Gonzales provided the intellectual framework for the worst setback for a racially blind America in the last 25 years.”
Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family told the Los Angeles Times last year that Gonzales is “soft on the constitutional issues we care most about.”
Wiley Drake, a Southern Baptist pastor in California, commented Wednesday on his four-day-a-week radio show about news reports that Gonzales would be Bush’s pick to replace Ashcroft.
“Mr. Bush is selling us out on Alberto,” Drake said. “He is a bad dude.”
If chosen, Gonzales, 49, would become the first Hispanic attorney general. He served in Bush’s administration when the president was governor of Texas and was named White House counsel in January 2001.
He reportedly has been at the center of developing Bush’s positions on balancing civil liberties with the war on terrorism, including a legal opinion on treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq that critics said contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The anti-abortion Web site LifeNews.com said because of uncertainty about his views on abortion, there could be a side benefit to having Gonzales as attorney general—it takes him out of the running for a Supreme Court spot in the next couple of years. Pro-life groups are seeking an additional vote on the high court in hopes of overturning 1973’s Roe vs. Wade ruling that established a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
The ACLU, meanwhile, called for “full and thorough” Senate confirmation hearings scrutinizing Gonzales’ policies on “the constitutionality of the Patriot Act, the Guantanamo Bay detentions, the designation of United States citizens as enemy combatants and reproductive rights.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.