The day after nominating John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States, President Bush addressed the remaining Supreme Court vacancy: “The list is wide open. … And make sure you notice when I said that, I looked right at Al Gonzales …”
Last summer, when Gonzales’s name was first floated as replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor, Bush lashed out at conservatives for their tepid response. Sounding like a cross between Don Corleone and the narrator of Green Eggs and Ham, the president bristled, “I don’t like it when a friend gets criticized. I’m loyal to my friends. And all of a sudden this fellow, who is a good public servant and a really fine person, is under fire. And so, do I like it? No, I don’t like it at all.”
No matter whom George W. Bush ultimately nominates, it’s clear that the man he would most like to appoint is Gonzales, his longtime consigliere upon whom he has bestowed the nickname “Fredo.” After decades of personally prospering through crony capitalism, Bush wishes to reward his most devoted practitioner of lackey legalism by ensconcing Gonzales on the high court.
During Gonzales’s attorney general confirmation hearings last winter, Democrats denounced him for overseeing memos justifying the abuse of prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Criticism of Gonzales’s role in excusing torture was not restricted to partisan liberals—a dozen retired generals and admirals, including former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili, issued an open letter denouncing Gonzales for endangering American soldiers, physically and morally.
Yet the idea of Gonzales on the Supreme Court has been greeted far more enthusiastically by Democrats than Republicans. The president had repeatedly promised social conservatives that he would nominate strict constructionists in the mode of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They see Gonzales, in contrast, as another unprincipled lawyer who, once safe on the bench, will, like so many other disappointing Republican appointees, start “growing” and eliciting what Tom Bethell memorably labeled “strange new respect” from the New York Times by voting the liberal line.
Gonzales’s meteoric rise as Bush’s minion epitomizes the priorities of this administration. One, slavish loyalty over independent judgment. Two, promotion of the incompetent, such as the hapless former FEMA director Mike Brown. (One of Gonzales’s last projects as White House counsel before being handed cabinet rank was “grilling” and then endorsing the gangsterish Bernie Kerik, whose ill-fated nomination as Secretary of Homeland Security subsequently cratered.) And three, complex political machinations that turn out no more successfully at the polls than would just using all that energy to do a better job running the country.
Although nobody—other than the president, perhaps—seems to believe that Gonzales would be a distinguished addition to the bench, his nomination is widely perceived by the innumerate and ahistorical Washington press corps as a political masterstroke that would permanently cede the crucial Hispanic swing vote to the GOP. Gonzales would be the first Latino justice (or second, depending upon how you classify the Sephardic Benjamin Cardozo, whom Herbert Hoover nominated in 1932), and there is allegedly nothing Hispanic voters care about more than ethnic validation on the Supreme Court.
This might not make much sense to you or me, but the notion that Karl Rove is a sinister political genius appeals to reporters whose heads heat up alarmingly whenever numbers are discussed, so they take Rove at his word.
Rove has spun the press for years about how enormous the Hispanic vote —and the GOP’s share of it—will be Real Soon Now. Michael Barone swallowed the hype (even though as veteran editor of the Almanac of American Politics he should know better) and wrote in U.S. News & World Report, “… Hispanic immigrants are the fastest-growing and politically most fluid segment of the electorate. They were 7 percent of voters in 2000 and could be 9 percent in 2004, most of them in big states.”
A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, based on the authoritative Census Bureau voter survey, however, cast cold water on the overheated Hispanic hype. It reported, “In November, 2004, Hispanics accounted for 6.0% of all votes cast …” In his Washington Post op-ed “Latino Power? It Will Take Time for the Population Boom to Translate,” Pew’s Robert Suro summed up, “The rapid increase in its size has not produced a corresponding growth in its political clout—and won’t for some time to come.”
While Bush did well among Hispanics in 2004, few experts now believe he received the 44 percent of the Latino vote that the troubled national exit poll initially claimed. The consensus appears to be that he earned about 40 percent, up from 35 percent in 2000. Much less discussed, though, is Bush’s fraction of non-Hispanic white voters, who are 13 times more numerous than Hispanics. His white share rose almost as much, from 54 to 58 percent.
While Hispanics are often described as “swing voters,” the last time they actually swung was the 1960 candidacy of the Catholic John F. Kennedy. Since then, Hispanics have been “flow voters” who go with the national tide. Their partisan predilections float up and down in sync with those of non-Hispanic whites, just far to the left. Bush has done better than the average Republican candidate, but he hasn’t solved the GOP’s long-term problem that the mass immigration he supports so enthusiastically adds more Democrats than Republicans to the electorate.
Rove’s endlessly publicized GOP Hispanic outreach may have served mostly to cover up from the gullible press the importance to the GOP of white inreach, especially to social conservatives. Bush won 11.6 million more votes in 2004 than in 2000, mostly due to heavier voting, especially among whites, whose turnout rate grew from 62 to 67 percent, while Hispanics were stable at 47 percent. Whites provided Bush in 2004 with almost 10 times more incremental votes over 2000 than did Hispanics.
Nor is it clear that there is a truly pan-Hispanic vote—as Newt Gingrich learned the hard way when he bullied the House of Representatives in 1998 into voting for Puerto Rican statehood to seduce the fast-growing immigrant electorate, only to learn that Puerto Ricans aren’t immigrants and immigrants don’t care about Puerto Rico. At least Gonzales is Mexican-American, but his group only represents a little over half of Hispanic voters.
Finally, do Hispanics or Mexican-Americans actually care about Alberto Gonzales’s career? The most obvious analogy is the president’s father’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. Less than a year and a half later, George H. W. Bush won just 10 percent of the black vote, down from 12 percent in 1988. Although the tribal nepotism strategy didn’t work for the first President Bush, the press seems sure it will triumph for the second. Yet the elder Bush was at least personally running for re-election the year after he nominated a black man, whereas even if Hispanics fall in love with George W. Bush for nominating Gonzales, somebody else will be running as the GOP nominee in three years.
Of course, if Gonzales somehow proved to be as forthright and incisive a justice as Thomas has, any failure to deliver the Latino vote would more than be forgiven by conservatives. But Thomas had already shown himself to be a man of independent mind and strong character. His contempt for the liberal establishment was seared in by the absurd ordeal they put him through during his confirmation hearings.
In contrast, Gonzales appears to be an ambitious social climber who fell into Republican circles in the conservative city of Houston and might be equally likely to move left in liberal Washington, D.C. after Bush is gone. The Washington Post reported in 2001: “Gonzales paints himself as a largely apolitical lawyer, who began leaning toward the GOP only after joining the prestigious Houston firm of Vinson & Elkins. He says he votes for the person, not the party, adding that he would have supported George W. Bush even if he had been a Democrat.”
Gonzales, a former corporate attorney, would hardly seem suited to galvanizing higher turnout among Hispanic social conservatives. For example, while on the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales frequently voted for the judicial bypass option to allow teens to obtain abortions without parental notification. Further, he has declared he would be ruled by the doctrine of stare decisis on Roe v. Wade, meaning he wouldn’t touch it.
Rather than identify with working-class family-values voters, Gonzales has come to represent the Latino elite’s interests, which are to protect affirmative action and encourage immigration, legal and illegal, so that the quotas that benefit them grow ever larger. He is so pro-illegal immigration that in his Senate confirmation testimony he used that ultimate euphemism for illegal aliens: “citizens.” Of course, his presidential mentor has called illegal immigrants the same thing.
Gonzales admitted in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune that his ethnicity has benefited his career: “It’s like when [Bush] appointed me to the Supreme Court of Texas, and he was asked if it made a difference that I was Hispanic. And he said, of course it made a difference.” Unsurprisingly, his interest and ideology coincide. He told the American Bar Association in 2003 that Bush believed in ethnic preferences in nominating judges: “Some will argue that diversity is not an appropriate goal, that quality is not determined by external characteristics but by internal discipline and training … But [Bush] believes that a president who seeks out judicial candidates in a diverse society should ensure that our federal judiciary is highly qualified and diverse.”
Indeed, Gonzales may have single-handedly saved ethnic quotas in the United States by neutering Solicitor General Ted Olson’s anti-racial-preference briefs to the Supreme Court in the 2003 University of Michigan Law School affirmative-action case. Robert Novak reported, “Bush agreed to intervene, but Gonzales started carving up Olson’s language. This was not a matter of the president presiding over a debate between Olson and Gonzales. The solicitor general never got to talk to the president, except through Gonzales.” Ultimately, Justice O’Connor got Gonzales’s message and declared “diversity” to be a “compelling interest,” a catastrophic endorsement of reverse discrimination.
In the aftermath, Gonzales gloated, “And now that the Court has spoken, this Administration will continue to actively promote diversity and opportunity in higher education in every way that the law permits.” As a justice, Gonzales would be given greater influence over what “the law permits” on the diversity front.
Many conservatives disenchanted with the Bush administration’s acquiescence to big government and invade-invite the world policies voted to re-elect the president solely because of the Supreme Court. Gonzales—with his support for preferences, fealty to Roe, and apologetics for illegal immigration —is exactly the kind of justice they hoped to avoid.
Steve Sailer is TAC’s film critic and VDARE.com’s Monday morning columnist.