By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, former U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush addressed students, faculty and the public at the University of Alabama’s School of Law. Judge Alberto Gonzales was brought in by the Alabama Republican Party and was hosted by the University of Alabama Law School.
Gonzales said, “History is being made every day there,” talking about the White House.
Gonzales said that that the White House legal staff made their recommendations based on their best understanding of the law at the time; but sometimes the courts disagreed with the White House interpretation of the law. Gonzales said that it was hard to walk in to tell the President that your advice was rejected by the courts; but Bush was a “good client.” He would accept the loss without anger and say, ‘that is what the courts are for.’ Gonzales said that he had many experiences as White House Counsel including actually being in the Operations Room at the beginning of the start of the Iraq War.
In 2004 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigned in 2004 and Pres. Bush appointed Gonzales to replace Ashcroft as AG. Gonzales would remain in the role of the nation’s top lawyer until August 2007. Gonzales said that the two greatest legacies of the Bush administration are the War on Terror and Bush’s two appointments to the Supreme Court: Justices Alito and Roberts. Gonzales said that the War on Terror is not over with yet and how it is viewed by history will be determined by what comes about in its aftermath. Will Democracy take hold in the Middle East? What happens next? Gonzales said that he was very involved in both of those two major areas of the administration.
UA student Joseph Seigelman asked Judge Gonzales several questions about the prosecution of his father, former Alabama Governor Don Seigelman (D). Joseph Seigelman asked if it was appropriate for the spouse of U.S. Attorney for North Alabama that prosecuted Gov. Seigelman to be involved in the Bob Riley campaign. Former AG Gonzales said, “I am not going to interject myself into that decision. That kind of charge would go to the Office of Professional Responsibility” not the Attorney General himself. Gonzales said, “Nobody ever lobbied me or asked me to get involved,” in the Seigelman investigation. Gonzales said that the U.S. Department of Justice has 105,000 employees and of those only 400 are political appointees. “Its dangerous for a US Attorney to make a decision on personal grounds. It did not happen in this case.” AG Gonzales said, “I made the decision I thought was appropriate. I let the career professionals make the decision,” (to prosecute Governor Seigelman).
AG Gonzales did complain about the Politicization of the office Attorney General. “Do I think there is a political bias? Yes I do.” Gonzales said that the people who were criticizing him were Democrats and the people who are investigating AG Holder are Republicans. Gonzales said that when there is a real issue that is fine; but 97% of the criticism that he and the Bush administration got for the firing of the Clinton appointed U.S. attorneys was just political. AG Gonzales said, “When there is so much at stake people fight and sometimes they fight dirty.”
One student asked about the Sen. Ted Stevens (R) from Alaska prosecution where a Justice Department Internal Probe threw out the case before sentencing because it found gross prosecutorial misconduct. Sen. Stevens narrowly lost reelection following the guilty verdict, but before the sentencing. AG Gonzales said that he was shocked and was angry about the revelations of prosecutorial misconduct. Gonzales said that whenever the department lost a major case or a judge suggested the Departments attorneys acted inappropriately, “I called the head of the criminal divisions.” Gonzales said he was, “I had the same reaction,” as the public about the case. He said he was shocked, disappointed, and surprised by the findings. (The Stevens indictment and trial occurred in 2008, over a year after Gonzales left the Department of Justice).
Gonzales said, “As the Attorney General you are not going to weigh in on every prosecution.” Gonzales said as AG you are involved in looking at so many situations that you really can’t do more than ask the Deputy Attorney General to look at the details of a situation and hope that the appropriate people looked into it.
Judge Gonzales told that young law students: “As you get older that question you ask more and more is: Are you going to make a difference? Make time out in your career for public service. It is going to make you a better person and a better lawyer. We need good people.” Gonzales admitted that being in the arena comes with a price. “I have been there. I have been knocked down. I have been bloodied.”
‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ asked Judge Gonzales about renewed calls from President Barack Obama, Senator Diane Feinstein, and former Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens calling for new restrictions on Americans’ right to bear arms. Jude Gonzales said, “I support Gun rights. Now do people have rights to own a bazooka or a tank? No they don’t. There is room for some regulation of the sorts of weapons that people can own. The constitution does protect the right of citizens to own certain weapons.”
‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ asked Judge Gonzales: President Bush and Senator McCain both proposed immigration reforms which would have legalized more illegal aliens while stiffening border security. Those efforts were defeated in the Congress by more border hawkish elements in the Republican party led by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) from Colorado. Did extremism by certain Republicans drive a wedge between Hispanic voters and the Republican Party leading to electoral disasters like the electionns of 2006 and 2008 where Republican lost control of both Houses of Congress and the presidency? AG Gonzales said, “No there were lots of reasons for the defeats of 2006 and 2008 and part of that is the economy.” Judge Gonzales said that he was concerned that Republicans rhetoric is driving Hispanic voters away. Republicans need to be aware of their rhetoric and what they say. Gonzales said, “Even American citizens in the Hispanic community have friends and know people who are illegal aliens.”
Judge Gonzales said that he was not intimately familiar with Alabama’s immigration law; but that we did not need a “piecemeal immigration policy” set by 50 different states. Gonzales said, “Obviously when states take action it is in response to cries of people.” Gonzales said the reason why states take action is because of a, ”Failed immigration policy at the federal level.”
Gonzales said that there was a lot of support for giving children who were brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own some sort of pathway to legal residency. That issue had been driving the immigration reform debate. When President Obama gave those young people legal residency by executive order it took pressure off the issue, making immigration reform actually more difficult. “I support the objective but not the method.” Gonzales said that he was not optimistic about comprehensive immigration reform passing any time soon. Gonzales said, “We need to know who is in this Country and why.”
Judge Gonzales said, “I am in favor of voter id laws. How can you live in this society without a photo id? If somebody told me I couldn’t vote because I didn’t have a photo id, I would get a photo id. As a former Secretary of State I believe in the sanctity of the vote.”
Since January, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been the Chair of Law at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Judge Gonzales also addressed students and faculty at the Cumberland Law School at Samford University in Birmingham earlier on Tuesday.