Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Alberto Gonzales to Belmont Law: highest executive official in Hispanic American history to become a Nashvillian

Former White House Counsel and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the Monday press conference announcing his acceptance of a job offer from Belmont University College of Law

Alberto Gonzales, the highest-ranking Hispanic American ever to have served in the executive branch of the federal government, has accepted a full-time teaching position at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville. Gonzales reports to work in January, in the middle of the inaugural year of the law school. Gonzales served as White House Counsel and U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush.

One of Alberto Gonzales' three sons is already part of Nashville - he is a student at Belmont University. Beginning in January, his father will join him as one of the many Hispanic members of the Nashville community.

Two years ago, Gonzales came to town to speak to the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and in the audience were local GOP luminaries Bill Haslam, Bill Ketron, Beth Harwell, and my own State Rep. Glen Casada. In the article about that speech, I detailed many of Gonzales' accolades and also the fact that he is proud of his grandparents, three of whom may not have had legal immigration status when they came to the U.S. from Mexico. Thanks to Belmont for adding a prominent defender of the 14th Amendment to Nashville's conservative circles.

What's not to like about that?

The Tennessean decided to ask local civil rights attorney Jerry Gonzalez just what might be wrong about the news of the newest Belmont professor, in light of the controversy that surrounds him (summed up by Gonzales' own alma mater Rice University as relating to his opinion of the Geneva Convention provisions on torture, "plus his support for all facets of the Patriot Act, his backing of military tribunals for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and his absence of total opposition to abortion and affirmative action. They also criticize his personal loyalty to George W. Bush, which, they say, skews his role as legal advisor to the president." The Atlantic Monthly has its own brief list, as well - including a reference to death penalty review while advising then-Governor Bush.)

Despite all that controversy, including Alberto Gonzales' association with Bush's policy of waterboarding terror suspects, and Jerry Gonzalez's having been waterboarded before as a part of military training, the Tennessean quoted JG as saying the appointment of AG is "no big deal":
It provides good name recognition for the university, he said, and law school students are so focused on the basics that it’s highly unlikely that issues such as torture will ever arise. “Most of the classes students are taking are pretty basic,” Gonzalez said. “If a student did ask, ‘Professor, what about torture?’ most law school teachers use the Socratic method, so they’d come right back at them: ‘What do you think about torture?’ And (the class would) debate that among themselves and then move on to another topic.”
For any future Belmont Law students looking in vain for an answer from their professor about his role advising the President on terror-related issues, there are plenty of interviews available, but the one that stood out to me was with the Wall Street Journal, in which Gonzales implied that the ends justify the means:
"Mistakes were made by me and others. But how successful we were, the measure of that is whether we've been attacked again, and we haven't. That's a very good measure of the policies." 
That ends-focused philosophy is consistent with the account of Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel while Gonzales was White House Counsel, who described (in his book The Terror Presidency) the post-9/11 legal mindset of Gonzales and others in the White House:
"The President had to do what he had to do to protect the country. And the lawyers had to find some way to make what he did legal."
As I wrote in an ad for HispanicNashville.com in 2009, "Every Hispanic face in Nashville tells an amazing story. Ours." Watching our newest amazing story unfold is something Nashvillians no doubt look forward to, given Gonzales' prominence. Gonzales himself seems ready to write new chapters, telling WPLN:
"Being a resident of Nashville, I can assure you I will not just limit my time to the law school and to work here at Belmont, but I intend to become fully involved in efforts in the community.”

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