Now that President Bush’s friend and fellow Texan, Alberto Gonzales, has resigned from that post, Bush must choose a replacement who will promise to put the law above politics.
Controversy has swirled around the Texas lawyer ever since he was nominated as attorney general more than two years ago.
Bush said Gonzales had been “impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”
But Gonzales’ critics, who have included both Democrats and Republicans, assert that he has run the Justice Department as if it were a political arm of the Bush White House.
No doubt the truth lies somewhere between the extremes. But even Bush acknowledged that the unrelenting controversy surrounding Gonzales became a harmful distraction.
The attorney general is a member of the president’s Cabinet. But, to be effective, the chief lawyer of the U.S. government must be strong enough to make decisions based on the law, not on partisan politics.
When President Nixon thought special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox was getting too close for comfort, he ordered then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.
To his credit, Richardson put the law before politics. He refused Nixon’s order and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned.
Although Nixon eventually found someone to carry out his orders in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, the point was driven home that the office of the attorney general must not allow politics to trump the law.
Gonzales, the son of migrant workers, reared with seven brothers and sisters in a two-bedroom house in Humble, Texas, rose to attain a Harvard law degree and became a full partner in Houston’s Vinson & Elkins law firm before he became then-Gov. Bush’s counsel.
Since then, Gonzales has tied his fate to Bush, who appointed Gonzales as Texas secretary of state, placed him on the Texas Supreme Court and then made him White House counsel before his present appointment.
It was perceived by Gonzales’ many critics that he viewed his job as attorney general to protect and defend Bush rather than to enforce the law first and foremost.
Bush’s next appointment to this important job must have a strong legal background, good judgment and a commitment to independence.