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On Feb. 3, by a vote of 60 to 36, the Senate confirmed White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general of the United States. This result is unfortunate. It is questionable whether Gonzales will exercise the independence of judgment that is necessary for the role of top lawyer in the nation. While lawyers should be zealous advocates for their clients, they must also demonstrate respect for the rule of law. They may try to bend laws to their clients’ advantage, but they should not hide important facts, define laws in nonsensical ways or claim that a client, by virtue of his position, is above some laws. When a lawyer serves in an advisory role, it is ultimately a disservice to a client to present a one-sided view of an issue of importance in order to give the client what he wants. In the case of Gonzales’ scant vetting of Bernard Kerik for secretary of homeland security, the negative results were in evidence quickly, but they also subsided quickly. With regard to his view that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to certain prisoners and his apparent complicity with a memo that defined torture in an extremely narrow way, the negative results may be long-term. As Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted during Gonzales’ Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 6, “I think we’ve dramatically undermined the war effort by getting on the slippery slope in terms of playing cute with the law, because it’s come back to bite us.” Gonzales’ evasive responses to questions posed by judiciary committee members on his views about torture are troubling. Also troubling is his failure, when serving as general counsel to then-Governor George W. Bush, to present the governor with a full and balanced summary of clemency petitions in death penalty cases. This behavior bespeaks a lack of respect for due process. At his judiciary committee hearing, Gonzales said, “I will no longer represent only the White House, I will represent the United States of America and its people.” We hope that Gonzales remembers that his duty is to enforce laws fairly and impartially on behalf of all the American people. That duty should, when necessary, supersede loyalty to the president.

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