Dawn Johnsen

  • November 2, 2009

    Storm clouds appear to be gathering over two of President Obama's judicial nominees facing what Professor Carl Tobias calls an increasingly tight "bottle neck in the Senate." Apparently added to the hit-list for those obstructing nominations are Judge David Hamilton, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Magistrate Judge Edward Chen, nominated to the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

    Both Judges Hamilton and Chen are rated as "well qualified" by the non-partisan American Bar Association (ABA), which rates nominations to the federal bench. "Well qualified" is the highest rating provided by the ABA.

    As to Judge Hamilton, Senator Jeff Sessions disagrees with the ABA, having written a letter urging his colleagues to filibuster Hamilton's nomination. Sessions writes that Hamilton's nomination presents "one of the extraordinary circumstances where the President should be informed that his nominee is not qualified."

    Sessions, a failed nominee to the federal bench himself, is currently the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite his central role in judicial nominations, filibustering Judge Hamilton's advancement to the Seventh Circuit may prove particularly challenging in light of the support for Hamilton's nomination from his home-state Senator Richard Lugar. That said, Lugar's support has yet to prove dispositive for another of Obama's legal nominees -- Indianan Dawn Johnsen, whose nomination to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has languished for almost eight months.

    One of the charges being repeatedly lobbed at Hamilton's nomination is that he "ruled that praying to Allah does not violate the Establishment of Religion clause in the First Amendment, but praying in Jesus Christ's name does." This allegation was assessed by one observer last April who wrote, "it's all a lie, but ... I was surprised how despicably rancid a lie it it." The opinion at issue is in Hinrichs v Bosma, and is available here.

  • October 30, 2009

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered cutting remarks this week, criticizing unnamed senators who are obstructing President Obama's confirmation-level nominees. In that speech, Reid failed to specifically note the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), however, raising eyebrows at some progressive organizations calling for her confirmation.

    "Nearly 40 organizations have called on Reid to schedule a vote on Dawn Johnsen," reports The Hill this morning. "Several members of this coalition are frustrated that Johnsen's nomination has languished in the Senate for nearly eight months despite Democrats' control of 60 seats."

    Johnsen has drawn criticism from some chambers for her dedication to reproductive rights and for being among the first and most outspoken critics of the Bush torture program. Glenn Greenwald, characteristically tongue-in-cheek, frames the discussion another way: "Dawn Johnsen's belief in the rule of law disqualifies her from Senate confirmation."

  • October 29, 2009

    "Today, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made what I think is the hardest-edged, most direct and sustained criticism of the Republican minority's campaign of holds and filibusters on Obama administration and judicial nominees," writes Dave Weigel at The Washington Independent.

    Beginning with the hold on President Obama's nomination for Surgeon General, Senator Reid detailed a number of nominations subject to what one observer called "unprecedented" obstruction by senators seeking leverage on pet issues. Among those nominations still pending before the Senate are a number of Assistant Attorneys General, including that of former ACS board member Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

    Of the nominations that were held up, but have since proceeded to the Senate floor, Reid stated, "When votes were finally called, they passed with flying colors: They passed with vote counts of 89-2, 97-1, 88-0 and 97-0. The numbers don't lie, and there's no clearer evidence that many of these objections are without merit.

    Reid did not hesitate to compare the pace of nominations in Obama's first year at the White House with those announced during the first years of the second Bush presidency:

  • October 22, 2009
    The Senate confirmation process for President Obama's nominations continues to drag, as noted in a letter to The Washington Post by Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). In his letter, Henderson lauded a recent column by Ruth Marcus lambasting the Senate for moving slowly on several of the administration's nominations, but noted that the columnist failed to mention the long-stalled nomination of Indiana University law school professor and former ACS Board member Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). 

    Henderson writes:

    Ms. Johnsen is eminently qualified to lead this office, which plays a key role in protecting our constitutional rights. She is a distinguished law professor who in the 1990s served five years in the Office of Legal Counsel, including a stint as acting director. After it became known that the office, during the Bush administration, approved illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens and the torture of detainees, Ms. Jonhnsen spearheaded an effort by legal experts to develop guidelines to ensure that the office fulfills its proper role. She is supported by an impressive and bipartisan group of former administration officials and has the votes to be easily confirmed, if only Republicans would let the vote take place.

    This is obstruction, pure and simple. And, as Ms. Marcus said, it's no way to run government.

    There was some movement in the Senate yesterday on President Obama's nominations, with Nashville attorney Jane Branstetter Stranch, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, facing few challenging questions (and even fewer senators) at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nonetheless, the slow pace of President Obama's judicial nominations and Senate confirmations continues to be a source of attention in the media and criticism from both the left and the right. To date, only three of the president's judicial nominees have been confirmed, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


  • October 7, 2009
    Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated his support of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The Blog of Legal Times reported recently that Holder told an "informal" gathering of reporters that the nomination of Johnsen, an Indiana University law school professor and former member of the ACS Board of Directors, has been pending "far too long." During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, Holder said that getting Johnsen confirmed was a top priority.

    The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus writes today that senators have "been blocking confirmation of a disturbing number of administration nominees, many for reasons having nothing to do with their suitability for their jobs." Marcus cites the situation of Miriam Sapiro, nominated this spring to be the deputy U.S. trade representative. Marcus maintains that Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning is holding up the nomination because he's rankled about an international measure that would place restrictions on tobacco companies. The senator wants U.S. trade authorities to intervene, Marcus writes, "even though federal law restricts them from promoting tobacco use. And he is hold Sapiro hostage, leaving the trade office without a political appointee overseeing crucial" trade issues.