Dawn Johnsen

  • May 11, 2009
    The Los Angeles Times joins a growing number of newspapers to endorse President Obama's choice to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In a May 11 editorial, the newspaper states:

    The irony is overwhelming, Republicans in the Senate are opposing - and may try to filibuster - President Obama's choice to head the Justice Department agency that during the Bush administration provided legal cover for the torture of suspected terrorists. Their argument: Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen is a partisan activist who would politicize the Office of Legal Counsel, which is charged with providing the executive branch with an objective analysis of existing law.

    Johnsen's nomination has also drawn the support of a group of former OLC directors. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder voiced renewed support for Johnsen, saying that securing her confirmation was a top priority. 

  • May 7, 2009
    Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, reiterated his support for Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Holder told the committee that the OLC is being run by capable lawyers, but that getting Johnsen confirmed as OLC director was "probably my top priority."

    Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor and former member of the ACS Board of Directors, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, but her nomination has since been held up by opponents, who take issue with her criticism of some legal advice from the OLC during the Bush administration. Johnsen's nomination has garnered an array of support, including newspapers, a group of 70 legal scholars and former OLC directors. 

  • April 30, 2009

    The Washington Post has become the latest voice to join the broad array of observers supporting the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The Post joins a bi-partisan group of 70 legal scholars, former OLC directors appointed by Democrat and Republican presidents, the editorial board of The New York Times and Sen. Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.) in extolling Johnsen's qualifications for the position.

    The Post editorialized: 

    Ms. Johnsen is undoubtedly qualified for the position, and she should be confirmed.

    Ms. Johnsen's confirmation has been held up by Republicans concerned that she's an "ideologue," in the words of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). Ms. Johnsen's nomination squeaked by on a party-line vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been stalled for the past month amid filibuster threats from some Republicans.

    Let's put aside, for the moment, the fact that the Justice Department under President Bush was perhaps the most politicized in a generation -- and that among the most warped sections of the Bush Justice Department was the OLC. It is nonetheless legitimate to ask whether Ms. Johnsen will behave as badly as some of her immediate predecessors.


  • April 29, 2009
    Earlier this week, a bi-partisan group of 70 legal scholars lobbied Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to support the nomination of his constituent, Dawn Johnsen, to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Lugar has since announced his support for Johnsen, a former ACS board member. According to Politico, Lugar's defection from those threatening to block Johnsen's nomination all but guarantees that the threats will prove toothless.
  • April 29, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Ari Melber, legal extern at the Brennan Center for Justice and correspondent for The Nation.

    President Barack Obama has drawn praise for transparency reforms during his first 100 days in office, but his use of the "state secrets" privilege to squash lawsuits on torture and surveillance is drawing mounting opposition. 

    On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Justice Department's attempt to use the state secrets privilege to shut down an ACLU case challenging government rendition. As the Washington Independent reports, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court and reinstated a case challenging alleged rendition by CIA contractors (in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan). The Ninth Circuit held that the government's secrecy claim was so broad, it would shut down legal oversight and accountability for the entire CIA and its associates:

    At base, the government argues here that state secrets form the subject matter of a lawsuit and [] require dismissal any time a complaint contains allegations [which themselves have] been classified as secret by a government official. The district court agreed, dismissing the case exclusively because it "involves ‘allegations' about [secret] conduct by the CIA." This sweeping characterization ... has no logical limit-it would apply equally to suits by U.S. citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on U.S. soil, not just abroad. According to the government's theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.

    The Ninth Circuit rejected that approach, it explained, not only because it was "unsupported" by case law, but because it "forces an unnecessary" face-off between the judiciary's duty to uphold the law and the executive's duty to protect national security. (PDF of opinion here)

    While federal judges usually have the last word on these issues, they are not the only ones expressing skepticism at Obama's expansive use of the privilege.