The Supreme Court short list.

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
July 1 2005 11:34 AM

The Supreme Court Shortlist

The views of the likely candidates.

(Continued from Page 5)

Alberto Gonzales

Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Gonzales

Age: 49 Graduated from: Harvard Law School. He used to be: general counsel to George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, a lawyer at Vinson & Elkins, a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, White House counsel to Bush. He's now: attorney general of the United States.

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His confirmation battle: Gonzales faced concerted opposition when he was nominated to be attorney general, mostly because of the role he played as White House counsel in easing the way toward coercive interrogation of the Guantanamo Bay detainees. But he was confirmed with 60 votes, which puts him over the filibuster threshold. If Gonzales were nominated for the Supreme Court, liberals might look past his torture tarnish and figure he's the best Supreme Court material they're likely to get from the Bush administration. Gonzales' bigger problem may be the religious right: When the administration floated his name as a serious candidate last week, conservative groups yelped because he's viewed as moderate on abortion and affirmative action. The quip by Republican Hill staffers reported by the National Review two years ago: "Gonzales is Spanish for Souter."

Civil Rights and Liberties

As White House Counsel, Gonzales reportedly weakened the administration's opposition to the affirmative action policies of the University of Michigan that came before the Supreme Court in 2003, arguing for challenging the way in which Michigan used race-based preferences rather than all forms of preference. "I know that I've been helped because of my ethnicity," Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "Personally, I'm not offended that race is a factor. But it should never be the overriding factor or the most important factor."

As White House counsel, Gonzales wrote a memo arguing that the president had the authority to decide not to grant foreign detainees the protections of the Geneva Conventions and was the recipient of a memo that defined torture far more narrowly than international or constitutional law.

On the Supreme Court of Texas, agreed that Texas agencies had to abide by a state law passed to protect employees who file worker compensation claims from being fired. The decision broke with previous rulings of the court on the question of whether the state had waived its immunity from suit. (Kerrville State Hospital v. Fernandez, 2000)

Abortion

Over a dissent, agreed that a 17-year-old girl could have an abortion without getting her parents' consent. The court was applying a Texas statute allowing an abortion without parental consent if the teenager asking for it "demonstrates that she is mature and sufficiently well informed." In a concurrence, Gonzales argued that the dissent's position—that exceptions to the rule of parental notification should be rare and require a high standard of proof—were policy decisions for the legislature, not the court. To construe the statute more narrowly than the text amounted to "an unconscionable act of judicial activism." (In re Jane Doe, 2000)

In another parental-notification case, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the teenager seeking an abortion had not established that she was sufficiently mature and well informed to do so without telling her parents. Because the girl's hearing took place a few days after the court issued its decision In re Jane Doe, Gonzales wanted to send the case back to the trial court, where the girl would have another chance. He explained that the evidence presented thus far did not prove that she had "thoughtfully considered her alternatives, including adoption and keeping the child" or that telling her parents about the abortion could subject her to emotional abuse. (In re Jane Doe 3, 2000)

Judicial Philosophy

In the abortion cases, argued for a restrained role for judges. "While the ramifications of such an [abortion] law and the results of the Court's decision here may be personally troubling to me as a parent, it is my obligation as a judge to impartially apply the laws of this state without imposing my moral view on the decisions of the Legislature."

In a case about whether a Texas law exempted insurers from paying attorney fees in breach-of-contract actions, strongly supported the principle of stare decisis, which directs a court generally to stand by its previous decisions. Respect for precedent promotes "efficiency, fairness, and legitimacy." (Grapevine Excavation, Inc. v. Maryland Lloyds, 2000)

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