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Positioned for a Call to Justice

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2001; Page C01

Al Gonzales is not entirely comfortable with the direction the discussion has taken. He's been White House counsel for a few months, and affirmative action -- the controversial policy giving preference to minorities -- is not something he's eager to discuss.

Perhaps he is concerned that he may have spoken too freely.

White House counsel Al Gonzales has been suggested as a potential Supreme Court justice. (Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post)

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"I am not naive enough to think that race has never played a role in the opportunities given me," he has just said.

Then he asks, "How do you define affirmative action?"

At 45, Gonzales has lived the American dream, from inner-city poverty to Harvard Law School, from the first minority partner at a major Houston law firm to this elegant West Wing office at the White House. And he's much talked about today as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court.

The Republican Party has historically opposed racial preferences, and Gonzales wants to make it clear he's no radical on the subject.

"If affirmative action is quotas, then I am not for it," he says. "If it means equal opportunity, then I say I support that.

"But to ask for special treatment because of race, that bothers me. And that may seem sort of hypocritical from someone who has probably been helped because of his race."

The conversation is interrupted by the roar of President Bush's chopper landing outside Gonzales' window. When it resumes, he chats enthusiastically about his two years on the Texas Supreme Court. There is no hint that this calm, soft-spoken man may be uneasy.

But then . . .

"Can I go back and make one final point about affirmative action?" he asks politely, noting that anything he says on the subject "will be really examined."

"This is a very important point. If any discussion of affirmative action ends up in your story, I need you to say this: My own personal feelings about affirmative action are not indicative of how I might rule on affirmative action if I were ever given the opportunity to rule on it from the bench again."

He pauses as the reporter takes down the quote.


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