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Positioned for a Call to Justice

Despite this view, Gonzales found himself ruling on intensely watched abortion cases on the Texas Supreme Court. Almost immediately after Texas passed a law requiring parental notification when a minor sought an abortion, the court was mired in appeals, trying to interpret the "bypass" provisions that would permit an abortion without such notice.

In one prominent case, Gonzales agreed with the majority in ruling that one 17-year-old was "sufficiently well informed to have an abortion without parental notification." Antiabortion activists excoriated the decision.

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

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In that opinion, Gonzales wrote that while "the results of the court's decision here may be personally troubling to me as a parent, it is my obligation as a judge to impartially apply the laws of the state."

Was he implying that he was against abortion, as some abortion rights advocates suspect? "I wasn't implying anything," he says. "My moral views on these issues are immaterial."

Gonzales declined to give his personal view on abortion, or on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. He says he has never discussed his view of abortion with Bush.

But he offers liberals some peace of mind when he says he supports the principle of following established legal precedent -- known in legal language as stare decisis. He says he agrees with Attorney General John Ashcroft when he said Roe v. Wade is settled law, and should be enforced as such.

"You need to be careful about disregarding precedent," says Gonzales. "There are dangers in doing that. There are subtle expectations that arise, as a result of years of precedent, that I think should only be ignored under exceptional circumstances. And I am willing to concede that there are exceptional circumstances. . . . But I think we have to be very careful."

Moving North

What has surprised him most about Washington, Gonzales says, is that "you can't keep a secret. Things are said and you figure they're said in confidence and the next thing you know, you read about them in the papers." Still, in an administration that has been known to freeze out the media, Gonzales has been comfortable talking to the press.

Rebecca Gonzales, who just settled her family into their new home in Vienna, wrote in a recent e-mail that she hasn't really focused on the value placed on power in Washington and on how her life will change, "other than Al and I both being surprised to find out that of his three invitations to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, none of them included me. In Austin, you would never invite someone to a black-tie event and not include their spouse. . . . It would just seem rude. I'm happy to say he declined all three invitations."

As for Al Gonzales, he will not speculate about his future in Washington. In a telephone interview the other day during which the high court was, of course, mentioned, he stated once again, "I told you, I am not a candidate."

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