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Alberto Gonzales on the Sotomayor Nomination

Alberto Gonzales on the Sotomayor Nomination

By The Situation Room - May 26, 2009

BLITZER: Judge Sotomayor speaking earlier today at the White House, right after the president announced she was his pick to become a United States Supreme Court justice.

Let's get to a former member of the Bush administration who has a unique perspective on Sotomayor's nomination to the United States Supreme Court. That would be the former Attorney General of the United States Alberto Gonzales. He once was seen as a possible contender himself to be the first Latino on the high court.

Attorney General, thanks very much for coming in.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: How close were you, in your mind? Did you ever find out how close you were to being President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court?

GONZALES: I didn't concern myself, Wolf, with -- with respect to my status on that short list. So...

BLITZER: But do you know if you were on the short list?

GONZALES: That's -- that's a question, I think, that is better posed to President Bush.

BLITZER: And -- but you're -- but you know you were, right?

GONZALES: Listen, I know that people -- people did consider me as a possible candidate for the Supreme Court, yes.

BLITZER: All right.

Well, now there's going to be -- well, there's a nominee already...

GONZALES: Yes.

BLITZER: ... who is Hispanic...

GONZALES: Yes.

BLITZER: ... a woman. How do you feel about that? You are the first Hispanic to serve as the attorney general of the United States. What do you think about her?

GONZALES: I think it's a proud day for the Sotomayor family. It's a historic day for the Hispanic community.

I don't think that any gender group or ethnic group is entitled to representation on our courts. I don't think that the outcome of a case should depend upon the ethnicity or gender of the judge, any more than the outcome of a case should depend on the ethnicity or gender of the prosecutor or defendant.

But, having said that, Wolf, this is a powerful message, a powerful message of hope and opportunity through this appointment, just like there's a powerful message sent when an African-American is elected president or an African-American or a Hispanic is appointed as attorney general of the United States. It's a powerful message that a president listens to. And this president obviously did.

BLITZER: Because you -- that picture that we saw earlier at the White House, the first African-American president now nominating the first Hispanic justice to become a United States Supreme Court justice, that says a lot about what's going on in our country right now.

GONZALES: Again, it says a lot about opportunities in our great country.

Obviously, this judge still needs to go through a confirmation process. There are questions, some concerns raised in certain quarters about her judicial philosophy. But that's what the confirmation process is all about. And -- and no nominee is entitled to a free confirmation process, an easy confirmation process.

She will be fully vetted, as she -- as she should be, because this is a lifetime appointment to our nation's highest court.

BLITZER: Here's what she said back in 2001. And I will put it up on the screen: "I would hope that a wise Latino woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

That's generating some commotion out there.

GONZALES: I'm not sure what that -- what she was trying to say there.

I think as -- you know, I served on the Texas Supreme Court. And there were times -- there were cases in which I had to interpret a statute. I didn't like the outcome based upon that interpretation as I read the statute, the intention of the state legislature. But I felt obliged by my oath of office to honor that intent of the legislature.

I -- I think it's dangerous when judges impose their own personal views with respect to the outcome of -- of a particular case.

BLITZER: Did you -- when the president of the United States says he wants something -- someone who is empathetic and has had real- world, real-life experiences, is that good or bad?

GONZALES: I think we all -- we want -- we would like to think that all of our government officials are good people, compassionate people.

And, obviously, someone with this kind of story makes a very attractive candidate in a confirmation process. But to say that you empathize with someone, I think it's -- it's very, very difficult to predict the outcome of a case based upon whether or not a judge feels good about a result.

I think there ought to be predictability and certainty in the interpretation of our laws. I think that's the number-one requirement that -- that a president should look for in the nomination of a Supreme Court justice.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, the fact that the first President Bush named her to the -- to the federal bench to begin with -- she was confirmed. Then President Clinton got her to the court of appeals. She was confirmed. Based on what you know about her, do you think she's qualified to be a United States Supreme Court justice?

GONZALES: I don't -- I have no questions in my mind about her qualifications, in terms of education, experience.

A president is not required to nominate the most qualified person to the court. I think he's obliged to nominate someone who is well- qualified. And I think, by any measure, she is well-qualified.

I think there are legitimate questions about her judicial philosophy. And, again, that will be something that will -- that will be examined in the confirmation process.

BLITZER: Is -- as a Hispanic-American, how worried are you that, if Republicans, conservatives go really hard against her, that would further alienate the Hispanic vote against the Republicans in the -- in the years to come?

GONZALES: Well, obviously, Republicans are very desirous of the Hispanic vote.

But they have an obligation, a duty. They took an oath as well to the Constitution. And they have an obligation to vet every nominee carefully. Whether or not that nominee is Hispanic, white, African- American, male or female, they have an obligation. And I expect them to discharge that -- that obligation.

BLITZER: How worried are you, switching gears for a moment, that the Justice Department lawyers who wrote those legal opinions authorizing enhanced interrogation, how worried are you that the system now will come down on them, either disbarment or worse?

GONZALES: What I worry about, Wolf, is that good people, well- intentioned people, serving in a historic -- historically difficult time, dangerous time in our nation's history may be penalized for -- for doing their best, simply providing the best legal advice that they can.

I am afraid of the chilling effect that that's going to have on future lawyers at the Department of Justice.

BLITZER: Because you were the White House counsel at that time. This was before you became the attorney general.

GONZALES: That's correct.

BLITZER: And were you involved in that -- in some of those legal opinions early on?

GONZALES: Well, what I can say is, is that I worked with the Department of Justice ensuring that legal advice was provided.

But, at the end of the day, it's the responsibility of the Department of Justice to provide the legal guides on behalf of the executive branch. BLITZER: So, are you in any -- do you think -- are you afraid that you could be in any legal jeopardy right now?

GONZALES: I -- Wolf, I stand by my record. I did my best to defend our country during very difficult times. So, I'm -- I am proud of my service.

BLITZER: All right.

Attorney General, thanks very much for coming in.

GONZALES: Thank you, Wolf.

 

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