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If you like Alberto R. Gonzales's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Rudolph Giuliani,
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George J. Mitchell,
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Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Gonzales
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Alberto Gonzales Biography

Former Attorney General of the United States

Alberto Gonzales Date of birth: August 4, 1955

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  Alberto Gonzales

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Alberto R. Gonzales was born in San Antonio, Texas. His parents, Pablo and Maria Gonzales, first met as migrant workers. They settled in Houston after Alberto was born, and raised a family that would eventually number eight children. Mr. Gonzales worked in construction, and later was employed in a rice mill, but there were no luxuries for this large family. Mr. Gonzales drank heavily and the house was often filled with the sound of violent quarrels, but Gonzales's mother instilled deep religious values in her children and encouraged them to do well in school.

Alberto Gonzales excelled in his studies, and was an honor student in high school, but with no history of higher education in the family, he was not encouraged to attend college. Instead, he enlisted in the United States Air Force after graduation. While serving in Alaska, he was impressed with the officers' accounts of the Air Force Academy and sought an appointment there. Once in the Air Force Academy, he found himself most intrigued by his classes in politics and government. He transferred to Rice University in Houston, graduated with honors in political science, and won admission to Harvard Law School.

Gonzales returned to Houston after law school and joined the prestigious law firm Vinson & Elkins. He was soon made a partner of the firm, and also taught law as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Word spread of this talented young attorney, and newly elected Governor George W. Bush recruited him to serve as a special advisor on border issues and relations with Mexico. Governor Bush was so impressed he made Gonzales his General Counsel. Gonzales was serving Texas as Secretary of State when Governor Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court. When Gonzales faced re-election to the court, he won 81 percent of the statewide vote.

Alberto Gonzales Biography Photo
On the Texas court, Gonzales angered some of Governor Bush's conservative supporters when he refused to endorse greater restrictions on abortion. When George W. Bush became President, he called on Alberto Gonzales to serve as White House Counsel. Although Gonzales was considered one of President Bush's most loyal supporters, he disagreed with the President's other advisers over affirmative action, a concept Gonzales strongly supported.

A number of actions taken by Gonzales in support of the President's political and policy aims were opposed by civil libertarians. Gonzales drew fire in the President's first term for his insistence that the records of Vice President Cheney's task force on energy policy remain secret. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Gonzales drafted an executive order for President Bush, restricting public access to the records of past presidents -- access previously assured by the Freedom of Information Act. Early in 2002, Gonzales concluded in a memo to the President that provisions of the Geneva Convention -- the international protocol governing the treatment of prisoners of war -- did not apply to Al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants detained in Afghanistan. Gonzales later drafted the Presidential Order authorizing military tribunals to try suspected terrorists.

At the same time, the National Security Agency began conducting electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens without the court-issued warrants required by law. When Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill, his deputy, as Acting Attorney General, refused to re-authorize the surveillance. Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card visited Ashcroft in the hospital, apparently to obtain his approval of the continued surveillance. The account of this incident later offered by Gonzales differed sharply from that of the other participants.

Alberto Gonzales Biography Photo
When Attorney General Ashcroft resigned at the end of 2004, the President selected Alberto Gonzales to replace him. Although questions arose concerning his previous opinions on the applicability of the Geneva Convention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on February 3, 2005, the United States Senate confirmed Gonzales's appointment by a solid majority. Shortly after Gonzales's swearing in, the Justice Department issued a secret opinion -- reversing its stated public position of a few months earlier -- authorizing the CIA to employ "enhanced interrogation techniques" with terror suspects.

As the cabinet officer in charge of the Justice Department, Attorney General Gonzales headed the federal government's law enforcement apparatus, including the attorneys responsible for prosecuting federal offenses. In December 2006, the Department dismissed six U.S. Attorneys previously appointed by President Bush. Another attorney had resigned under pressure. While it is customary for an incoming president to select his own appointees for these positions, it is highly unusual for them to be dismissed without cause during the same administration, and Congress initiated investigations.

Alberto Gonzales Biography Photo
Although the fired attorneys were all Republicans appointed by President Bush, it appeared that they were removed in favor of less qualified attorneys who were more supportive of the President's political agenda. The President's political advisor, Karl Rove, along with Gonzales's successor as White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, had compiled a longer list of Justice Department attorneys they wanted to replace. Although Gonzales denied any direct involvement in the firings, his initial statements on the matter were contradicted by Justice Department documents. His subsequent testimony before a Senate committee drew criticism from Senators of both parties.

The Senate Judiciary Committee then began to investigate the warrantless wiretapping conducted by the National Security Agency. When Gonzales was questioned concerning his 2004 visit to John Ashcroft's hospital room, his testimony was contradicted by other witnesses. As more Senators called the Attorney General's credibility into question, the Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to the Justice Department, to the Vice President, and to White House staff, including Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, both of whom had already resigned.

On August 27, 2007, Alberto Gonzales announced his intention to step down as Attorney General and return to private life. As in earlier statements, he asserted that preventing acts of terror against the United States had been his first and most important priority. The Inspector General's Office of the Justice Department conducted a lengthy investigation of all allegations surrounding Gonzales's firing of the six U.S. Attorneys, and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In his first years after leaving office, Alberto Gonzales conducted a mediation and consulting practice in Austin, Texas and taught political science at Texas Tech University. In 2011, Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee announced the creation of an endowed professorship in its College of Law, the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law. Alberto Gonzales was selected as the first professor to hold the position. Belmont's College of Law is now the only law school in the United States to have a former U.S. Attorney General as a full-time member of its faculty.

This page last revised on Aug 24, 2012 19:31 EDT
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