Justice as Step to Supreme Court for Gonzalez?

Choice of Gonzales May Blaze a Trail for the High Court (NYT)

Republicans close to the White House said on Thursday that the choice of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general was part of a political strategy to bolster Mr. Gonzales’s credentials with conservatives and position him for a possible Supreme Court appointment. These Republicans said Mr. Gonzales had been widely viewed as one of President Bush’s top choices for the court. But by first sending him to the Justice Department, they said, Mr. Bush could then nominate a conservative favored by his political base to fill the first vacancy that arises.

For Mr. Gonzales, tenure as attorney general would allow him to demonstrate his reliability to conservative leaders, many of whom say they are unsure of his views on issues like abortion and affirmative action, Republicans said. One Republican said Mr. Gonzales’s nomination hearings in Congress would also “get out of the way” the debate over legal memorandums that Mr. Gonzales supervised as White House counsel. Civil rights groups say memorandums about the treatment of captured terrorism suspects appeared to endorse the torture of some prisoners and opened the door to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The strategy, which Republicans said was in large part the work of Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, would clear the way for Mr. Bush to make his first nomination to the Supreme Court a trusted conservative, thus showing gratitude to his political base for the large role they played in giving him a second term. “It’s a thank you to the right for the election,” said one Republican adviser to the White House. “And they think they need to strike now in the post-election glow.” The theory, the Republican said, is that Mr. Bush will be at the apex of his power at the beginning of the second term, and in a strong position to battle Democrats in any Supreme Court confirmation fight. “So you do the toughest nominee first,” the Republican said.

Presidents over the years have parked future candidates for the Supreme Court in other positions in order to bolster their résumés and improve their chances. Most often, however, potential nominees are first parked on federal appeals courts, the level just below the Supreme Court, not as attorneys general.

Friends of Mr. Gonzales also say that if he is not put up later for the Supreme Court, the Justice Department is hardly a consolation prize, given that he has long desired to become the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general. Even so, the post has also proved to be a perilous one and has at times harmed careers, as in the case of Janet Reno’s difficult experiences with the Branch Davidian conflagration in Waco, Tex., and her return of a young boy in Florida, Elián González, to relatives in Cuba.

This strikes me as a plausible strategy. Of course Steve Bainbridge wrote about it two days ago.

Update (1023): Steven Taylor dubs this “an odd strategy” and observes, “of the places to send someone to prepare them politically for a Supreme Court nomination, this doesn’t strike me as a the best place to be sent.” True enough. Bainbridge’s post, though, explains why it’s not so nutty.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ret Automoton says:

    I think it would be wonderful to have another supporter of torture and murder on the Supreme Court who oddly enough is against abortion but for the death penalty. I’m quite sure that Rove and the rest of The handlers will groom and preen Gozalez into exactly what they want and need. He will take the rest of his classes with Ashcroft and finish his Masters in “torture is ok and here is how you get away with it”. He will be a tool in the grand scheme so that dubya can continue to fulfill his prophecy of chasing imagined problems in the desert. I wonder if the Admin has already reprogrammed Gonzo enough so that he will forget that there was’nt a single Iraqi on board for 9/11. Yeah probably.