Dawn Johnsen, Barack Obama’s nominee to head his administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is potentially the most qualified candidate ever selected for the position. Nominated February 11 and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee March 19, the Indiana University law professor has yet to be considered by the full Senate. What’s the hold up, you may ask? It appears that Johnsen is but another among many who has fallen victim to Republican obstructionism and the minority party’s ongoing misuse of the filibuster.
The Republican filibuster threat is only the most immediate cause for delay; forcing Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) to scramble for the 60 votes necessary for cloture, followed by an up or down vote which would undoubtedly result in Johnsen’s confirmation. The underlying causes behind GOP opposition to Johnsen stem from two ideological issues; one of which has been blown out of proportion by right-wing activists. The other, more significant reason for fighting Obama’s OLC nominee is grounded in GOP fear that she, unlike her Bush administration OLC predecessors, may actually follow the law.
Right-wing activist opposition to Johnsen pertains to her past work for NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy organization. More specifically, their objection pertains to a 1989 brief in which Johnsen’s organization — along with 76 others — argued against states having the right to prohibit abortions at public health institutions.
Johnsen’s critics have zeroed in on two sentences within a footnote, which they employ claiming the OLC nominee equated motherhood with “involuntary servitude.” It’s an assertion which Politifact declared, March 24, to be “false.”
Of course, right-wing pundits further afield have taken Johnsen’s words and maliciously converted them, as AmericanConservative.org did September 19, placing the Obama nominee as number 41 among 650 unpalatable administration officials as, “Dawn ‘Compared Pregnancy with Slavery’ Johnsen.” No matter how it’s stated, however, Johnsen’s pro-choice stance is and has always been remarkably mainstream.
“The real reason” for the GOP stance in opposition to Dawn Johnsen was imparted by Scott Horton, March 26, at The Daily Beast:
…Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance, which would clip the wings of the imperial presidency. Even more menacingly (from their perspective), she is committed to shining a light on some of the darkest skeletons of the Bush years.
If this is correct, then Horton’s assessment lends credence to that of Glenn Greenwald, whose aptly titled post, “Dawn Johnsen’s belief in the rule of law disqualifies her from Senate consideration,” was published May 13 at Salon.com. Within his post, Greenwald emphasized the fact that the Senate’s scrutiny of Johnsen was tragically absent in its confirmation of some previous, ultimately dubious, past nominees:
The Senate that is refusing to confirm Dawn Johnsen is the same Senate that confirmed Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA Director — with overwhelming Democratic support — even after it was revealed that he oversaw Bush’s illegal NSA spying program. It’s the same Senate that confirmed Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General — with substantial Democratic support — even once everyone knew that he had played a key role in Bush’s torture program. It’s the same Senate that — thanks to Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer — confirmed Michael Mukasey as Attorney General even after he refused to say whether waterboarding was torture and endorsed some of the most extremist presidential powers ever asserted in the U.S.
In other words, their covering their collective butts, and their doing so at the expense of a nation in desperate need of objective legal guidance.
Fortunately, there are those willing to tell their senators to quit stalling. A good example of this was a September 22 letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, written behalf of several organizations, directing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to drop the stall tactics on Obama nominations.
The LCCR letter refers to Johnsen, specifically:
…Professor Johnsen has already served with distinction in the OLC, and is undoubtedly well-qualified for the position. Her nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. The OLC plays a highly important role within the Administration, and the failure to confirm the President’s nominee to lead the office prevents the OLC from providing crucial legal advice on a wide range of issues currently confronting our nation.
I’ll include some additional links below, but if you agree with the sentiment of the above letter, contact your senators and tell them so. Additionally, consider signing THIS PETITION from NARAL-Pro-Choice America, calling on GOP senators to refrain from filibustering on the basis of any candidate’s pro-choice disposition.
“A Legal Advisor Worthy of the Job,” New York Times Editorial Board, 26 March 2009.
Greg Sargent, “Key Dem Senator Likely to Vote Against Top Obama Legal Nominee,” ThePlumLine, 24 April 2009.
Scott Horton, “Are Republicans Blackmailing Obama?” TheDailyBeast, 5 April 2009.
Image from flickr.com, User: umjanedoan, by way of CreativeCommons.org.