WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has critics on the left and right but he’s as popular as ever with the one-man constituency that matters most: President Bush. Their closeness and Gonzales’ Hispanic heritage have again placed him among leading contenders for a job on the Supreme Court.

Bush has given Gonzales five different jobs in the past 10 years, starting in Texas as the top lawyer to the governor. Gonzales became the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general in February.

The prospect of a lifetime appointment to the high court has renewed concerns among both liberals and conservatives. If anything, conservatives have been far more pointed, questioning Gonzales’ views on abortion and affirmative action.

Manuel Miranda, former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, said conservatives have indications from the White House that Gonzales indeed is being talked about for a seat on the court, much to their consternation.

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said in a column on the magazine’s Web site that Gonzales would be a mediocre justice and not a reliable conservative vote.

Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said his group has “serious concerns regarding a Gonzales nomination,” primarily over his role in crafting U.S. policies on interrogation and treatment of suspected terrorists.

The president has even jokingly stirred speculation over his fellow Texan. Bush said this week the list of potential nominees “is wide open, which should create some good speculation here in Washington.”

Then Bush looked across the table in the White House Cabinet Room and added, “Make sure you notice when I said that, I looked right at Al Gonzales, who can really create speculation.”

Gonzales has deflected questions about his interest in the job and whether he is being seriously considered.

He has acknowledged critics have a right to their opinion, but in the next breath said he’s concerned only about one man’s assessment.

“I’m primarily worried about what does the president think,” Gonzales said in an interview with The Associated Press in July, after Bush had nominated John Roberts to the court, but before Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s death created a second vacancy.

Gonzales also casually acknowledged his closeness to Bush when asked whether the president had interviewed him for a court seat. “I think the president interviewed folks that he felt he needed to interview to get to know and assess their qualifications,” he said.

Rehnquist’s death makes Bush the first president with two openings to fill at the same time since Richard Nixon in 1971.

Other possible replacements include federal appellate judges Edith Clement, Edith Hollan Jones and Emilio Garza. Also mentioned are judges J. Michael Luttig, Samuel A. Alito Jr., James Harvie Wilkinson III and Michael McConnell, and former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, lawyer Miguel Estrada and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson.

Gonzales’ seven months as attorney general have been relatively quiet – perhaps intentionally so after the stormy tenure of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Gonzales promised a different tone and promptly opened his office to a meeting with civil libertarians who never got time with Ashcroft.

The famous blue curtain erected during Ashcroft’s tenure to obscure partially clad statues in the Justice Department’s Great Hall came down this year, a decision Gonzales said he didn’t make, but also didn’t overrule.

Gonzales has been a prominent cheerleader for Roberts, while defending the White House’s decision to withhold documents from Roberts’ service as deputy Solicitor General under President George H. W. Bush.

Gonzales has made no major policy changes and has led the administration’s fight to renew expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act. He also has continued Ashcroft’s pursuit of obscenity cases.

Gonzales has not publicly revealed his views on abortion, although he told the AP he has a preliminary judgment about whether the Constitution gives women the right to an abortion.

While serving on the Texas Supreme Court, he upset conservatives by joining a majority ruling that a 17-year-old girl could seek an abortion without telling her parents.

In a concurring opinion, Gonzales criticized the dissenting judges, including Priscilla Owen, for “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.” Owen recently won a long-sought Senate confirmation to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but opponents often used Gonzales’ words against her.

On the Net:

Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov

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