Bush attorney general pick is Alberto Gonzales
Will replace Ashcroft if confirmed by Senate
President Bush and Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Gonzales talks about replacing John Ashcroft.
CNN guests discuss the impact of John Ashcroft's resignation.
CNN's Judy Woodruff on past presidents' troubled second terms.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday nominated his White House legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to be the next U.S. attorney general, replacing John Ashcroft.
"His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped shape our policies in the war on terror," Bush said at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.
"He always gives me his frank opinion; he is a calm and steady voice in times of crisis. He has an unwavering principle of respect for the law."
Gonzales said the day was one of "conflicting emotions." He said if confirmed he would miss interacting with the members of the White House staff on a daily basis.
"I will work hard to build upon [Ashcroft's] record," he said.
In a news release, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said, "It's encouraging that the president has chosen someone less polarizing. We will have to review his record very carefully, but I can tell you already he's a better candidate than John Ashcroft."
Gonzales, a former Texas Supreme Court justice appointed by then-Gov. Bush, was named White House counsel in January 2001. He had also served as Texas' secretary of state. (Gonzales political fortunes tied to Bush's)
More conservative Republicans, however, have found some of Gonzales' relatively moderate votes on the Texas Supreme court troubling, including a majority vote not requiring some teenage girls to get parental permission for an abortion.
In his opinion on the ruling, Gonzales wrote, "While the ramifications of such a law may be personally troubling to me as a parent, it is my obligation as a judge to impartially apply the laws of this state without imposing my moral view on the decisions of the legislature."
Gonzales told associates at the time he felt the complaints about the memo -- written in January 2002 -- were taken out of context.
The memo warned Bush administration officials that they could be held accountable for "war crimes" if they did not agree with the conclusion of Justice Department attorneys that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gonzales' memo was a result of the State Department's request that Bush reconsider his decision to follow the Justice Department conclusion.
If confirmed as attorney general, Gonzales will be the first Hispanic American to hold the Cabinet position.
Bush received Ashcroft's handwritten resignation letter a week ago, but did not formally accept the attorney general's resignation until this week.
The president praised the outgoing attorney general as "another superb public servant."
During his nearly four-year tenure as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, Ashcroft "reorganized the Department of Justice to meet the new threat of terrorism," Bush said. "He fairly and forcefully applied the Patriot Act and helped to dismantle terror cells inside the United States."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the judiciary committee's ranking Democrat, wrote in a news release, "I like and respect Judge Gonzales and look forward to our committee's consideration of his nomination.
"The Justice Department in the first Bush term was the least accountable Justice Department in my lifetime. Meaningful oversight and accountability were thwarted for years. We will be looking to see if Judge Gonzales intends to change that."
Ashcroft's resignation will become effective upon confirmation of Gonzales, Justice Department officials said.
Ashcroft, a former senator and two-term governor of Missouri, garnered criticism as attorney general on issues like the Patriot Act, which backers say helps the government in its fight against terrorism and critics say infringes on civil liberties.
Ashcroft was treated for gallstone pancreatitis in March, and his recovery kept him out of the office for nearly a month. In his handwritten resignation letter, dated November 2, he told Bush the job has been "both rewarding and depleting." (Text of resignation letter)
"I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration," he said.
CNN's Tom Watkins contributed to this report.