Profile: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

ByABC News
November 10, 2004, 11:19 AM

— -- Alberto R. Gonzales, the second of eight children, grew up in a two-bedroom house in Houston, and rose to become the top law enforcement official in the United States and the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.

On Feb. 3, 2005, Gonzales, 49, was confirmed by the Senate to succeed John Ashcroft as attorney general. Despite Democratic complaints that he helped construct questionable U.S. policies on the treatment of foreign prisoners and evaded questions having to do with the war on terror, the Senate confirmed him with a 60-36 vote.

During his confirmation hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats stood unexpectedly united in their opposition to Gonzales, with all eight Judiciary Democrats opposing the nominee.

Historically, several nominees for attorney general have engendered animosity during the confirmation process. That said, the Senate has rejected only two nominees since 1789. Notably in modern times, however, Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator, drew a deeply divided 58-42 vote four years ago.

Gonzales served in Bush's administration when the president was governor of Texas, and was named White House counsel in January 2001. His name has often been put forward as a likely Supreme Court nominee, if there is an opening during Bush's term.

Gonzales was born in San Antonio and attended public schools in Texas. He served in the Air Force from 1973 to 1975, then attended the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1975 to 1977.

After his military service, he attended Rice University, graduating in 1979, and received his law degree from Harvard University Law School in 1982.

In private practice, Gonzales joined the law firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston in 1982, and eventually was named a partner in the firm.

As governor, Bush brought Gonzales into his administration in 1994 as a senior adviser to the governor, chief elections officer, and the governor's lead liaison on Mexican and border issues.

Gonzales was named Texas' secretary of state in December 1997 and served until January 1999, when he was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court. He was a justice until January 2001, when Bush invited him to join his administration in Washington.

His term as White House counsel was not without controversy, as he fought with Congress to keep the details of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy commission meetings secret and defended the administration's right to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without formal charges and to deny them access to counsel or to protection from the court system.

Perhaps even more controversial was the February 2002 memo he wrote in which the Bush administration claimed that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to certain prisoners taken in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The memo claimed that the importance of gaining information about possible future terror attacks from people suspected of links to terrorist groups "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."