Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

Alberto Gonzales

On the surface, they seem an odd couple. one, the son of migrant workers, grew up in a house without hot water or a telephone. The other is the scion of a rich and powerful political dynasty. But Alberto Gonzales and George W. Bush have joined in a largely successful effort to build a more muscular executive branch. Drawn to the quiet lawyer's up-by-his-bootstraps story, then-Governor Bush persuaded Gonzales to leave his lucrative law practice in Houston and become his general counsel in 1994. Bush later put Gonzales on the Texas Supreme Court, and when Bush moved north, he made Gonzales White House counsel and, earlier this year, the nation's first Hispanic Attorney General.

It was at the White House that Gonzales became a chief architect of Bush's push to increase the White House's clout. Before 9/11, he advised the Administration on resisting disclosures about its dealings with energy-industry execs. After the attacks, Gonzales helped write the Patriot Act, which expanded federal power in the name of fighting terrorism. He also oversaw the selection of Bush's very conservative judicial nominees and, perhaps most controversial, was centrally involved in the meetings and memos that set guidelines for the treatment of suspected terrorists picked up overseas. That record led to a closer-than-expected Senate confirmation vote of 60-36 for his current post.

Gonzales has brought a gentler tone to the Justice Department than that of his predecessor, John Ashcroft, but he hasn't much altered its course or his devotion to the goals that first brought him and Bush together. He remains close to the President, which could mean a Supreme Court nomination for Gonzales before Bush's term ends.