Alberto Gonzales, President Bush’s nominee to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general, is, by all accounts, a skilled lawyer who has achieved a great deal since his humble beginnings as the son of Mexican migrant farmworkers.  He also has compiled a track record that should trouble all those who wish to limit abortion, immigration, affirmative action, or the powers of the executive branch.

As a member of the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales joined the majority of the court in construing a Texas statute intended to restrict a minor’s ability to have an abortion without first informing her parents to allow most minors in Texas to bypass their parents when deciding to have an abortion.  In In re Jane Doe, 19 S.W. 3d 346 (2000), the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “Jane Doe,” a 17-year-old, was entitled to have an abortion without first informing her parents, overturning both the trial court and the Court of Appeals, each of which had found that “Jane Doe” had not met the statute’s requirements for bypassing her parents.  In allowing “Jane Doe” to abort her child, the Texas Supreme Court ignored an amicus brief filed by the statute’s sponsors indicating that the Texas legislature wanted the statute’s bypass provisions to be narrowly construed.  In a stinging dissent, Justice Nathan Hecht convincingly argued that the rationale for the majority’s decision was that it did “not regard the decision to have an abortion as being a very important one.”  Bush’s nomination of Gonzales as attorney general does not augur well for his keeping faith with the social conservatives who gave him the margin of victory over John Kerry.

Gonzales’ appointment also signals that the second Bush administration will be no more friendly than was the first to those seeking to limit immigration or affirmative action.  Liberal columnist Joe Rodriguez, writing in the November 16, 2004, San Jose Mercury News, praised Gonzales, claiming that “Gonzales advised his friend in the big, flat state of Texas when then Governor Bush headed off a ballot initiative modeled after California’s Proposition 187.  That unconstitutional doozy would have ended public services and education for illegal immigrants.”  The National Council of La Raza, an active opponent of measures to stem illegal immigration, reacted to Gonzales’ appointment by issuing an adulatory press release, noting that “Alberto Gonzales served with distinction on the board of one of NCLR’s oldest and most respected affiliates, the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA) in Houston, Texas.”

With respect to affirmative action, Gonzales has already had a major impact.  As White House counsel, he intervened to change the briefs the Justice Department intended to file in the University of Michigan affirmative-action cases from arguing against any government consideration of race to arguing that the government had an interest in promoting “diversity.”  Many observers believe that the position taken by the Bush administration under Gonzales’s prodding was instrumental in causing the Court to uphold most forms of affirmative action in higher education.

More recently, Gonzales has gained notoriety as the author of a January 2002 memorandum arguing that the “War on Terror” has made the Geneva Convention’s limitations on treatment of enemy prisoners “obsolete” and “renders quaint some of its provisions.”  Critics charge that this was the message received by the jailers at Abu Ghraib.  Gonzales also asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to write an August 2002 memorandum that concluded that torturing suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in captivity abroad “may be justified” and that American criminal law’s prohibition against torture “does not apply to the President’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.”

Some conservatives, looking for comfort in the Gonzales nomination, have argued that at least he will not now be nominated for the Supreme Court.  At the very least, though, Gonzales will be in an excellent position to help select any Supreme Court nominee Bush gets a chance to appoint.  And some administration officials have suggested that the attorney general appointment is designed to help Gonzales reach the Supreme Court, by allowing him to distance himself from the controversy over Abu Ghraib.