Story Highlights• Attorney general turned down a White House job with Bush's father
• Gonzales was born in 1955, and grew up poor in Houston, Texas
• As a Texas Supreme Court justice, he earned the ire of his party
• But working in the White House, he became a protector of the administration
By Eliott C. McLaughlin
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(CNN) -- President Bush has placed a lot of faith in Alberto Gonzales over the last 12 years.
The embattled attorney general's resume glistens with appointments and nominations made by the 43rd president: Texas gubernatorial counsel, Texas secretary of state, Texas Supreme Court justice, White House counsel, attorney general.
In a 2005 interview, Gonzales, the nation's first Latino attorney general, recalled how he initially garnered Bush's attention when Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, asked him to come work in the White House in 1990.
At the time, Gonzales was an attorney with Vinson & Elkins, a massive Texas law firm that boasted Enron and Halliburton among its clientele, and Gonzales was ready to excel in the private realm.
"I wanted to stay and make partner, and so I said no," Gonzales told the Academy of Achievement of his encounter with the elder Bush.
Five years later, he was approached by the son. "I first got on his radar screen because I had turned his old man down for a job," Gonzales recalled to the academy.
The son of migrant workers, the 51-year-old attorney general has admitted he wanted to be a pilot until heavy math and science course loads at the U.S. Air Force Academy made him think about a career in law or government.
Gonzales' foray into the public sector provided a career in both, and he has demonstrated unflinching loyalty to the man who led him there, despite not always brandishing his own conservative credentials.
As a Texas Supreme Court justice, Gonzales earned the ire of his party when he voted with a 6-3 majority in 2000 to overturn a Bush-backed law that prohibited minors from having abortions without notifying their parents.
He later told Texas Monthly magazine that he had an obligation "to impartially apply the laws of this state without imposing my moral view on the decision of the Legislature."
His moderate voting record proved to be a millstone around his neck, as both liberals and conservatives attacked him when mutterings of a U.S. Supreme Court nomination arose years later.
One legal conservative told The New Republic in 2002 that Gonzales "was a very workmanlike judge who was not likely to rule on either extreme." Similar reports prompted the magazine to declare that Gonzales was "too liberal to be nominated and too conservative to be confirmed."
Once White House counsel, however, Gonzales' priorities seemed to turn to protecting the administration. When the General Accounting Office wanted information about Enron officials meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, Gonzales was there to say no way.
He later insulated Bush from congressional records requests and publicly defended the president's order making non-American terror suspects eligible for military tribunals. He also advised Bush to refuse to give prisoner-of-war status to suspected al Qaeda prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After his 60-36 confirmation as the 80th U.S. attorney general in 2005, Gonzales continued his role as protector, defending the National Security Agency's wiretapping program and, most recently, taking responsibility in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, some of whom claim they were political casualties.
The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Gonzales was born August 4, 1955, and grew up poor in Houston, Texas, with seven brothers and sisters. His parents, Pablo and Maria, were migrant workers with elementary school educations.
Though his father had "a terrible drinking problem" and Gonzales recalls "severe arguments" between Pablo and Maria, Gonzales told the Academy of Achievement in 2005 that no matter how much his father had to drink, he always woke up for work.
"My father worked six days a week for most of his life, harder than any person I've ever known," Gonzales once said at a White House event.
An excellent student, Gonzales spent his free time goofing off at the construction site where his dad worked and playing baseball with his brothers. Like many children, he had dreams of becoming a pro ball player.
When he was 12 or 13, Gonzales got a job selling soft drinks at Rice University football games.
"And I would watch the students stroll back to the campus, their dorm, and I would dream about what it would be like to be a student there," Gonzales told the Academy of Achievement.
Little did he know he would be attending Rice years later.
After high school, Gonzales joined the Air Force and was stationed at Fort Yukon, Alaska, where the Texas native passed the time playing midnight softball and enjoying the Northern Lights.
There, he met two Air Force Academy graduates who stoked his interest in the lofty military school. In 1975, Gonzales began attending classes, but he struggled with classes like physics and engineering. (Gonzales preferred English, history and social studies.)
After learning his eyesight would never pass pilot muster, Gonzales decided to enroll at Rice, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1979 before going to Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 1982, the same year his father died.
Gonzales had clerked for Vinson & Elkins while in school and went to work for the firm after graduation. He stayed there 13 years before being lured away by Bush when he was Texas governor.
Solidifying his conservative credentials shortly after joining the White House team in 2001, Gonzales took a shot at affirmative action while conceding it may have gotten him where he is today.
"I know that I've been helped because of my ethnicity," Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times. However, he added, "Hispanics should expect nothing more than an equal opportunity. For us to now say that we should be given an opportunity because of our ethnicity, irrespective of our competence, means that we'll be discriminating against someone else who doesn't happen to be Hispanic."