Dawn Johnsen

  • January 6, 2011

    Some eight months after ACS Board Member and constitutional law professor Dawn Johnsen withdrew her nomination in the face of Senate obstruction, President Barack Obama has made a second nomination for the top spot at the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.

    Virginia Seitz, a frequent ACS participant and a partner in Sidley Austin's Washington, D.C. office, was nominated yesterday for the position of Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel. Seitz focuses on appellate litigation before the federal courts and U.S. Supreme Court, and clerked for Judge Harry T. Edwards of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for Justice William J. Brennan.

    Obama also renominated James Cole for Deputy Attorney General, but Cole is already performing the job because Obama made a recess appointment in December after the Senate failed to vote on Cole's nomination, Main Justice reports. The recess appointment allows Cole to serve for up to two years without being confirmed.

    Obama's first nominee to the OLC, Johnsen, who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, withdrew her nomination in April after a sustained Republican filibuster threat that lasted fourteen months. In June, she wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post emphasizing the urgency of filling the position with a confirmed nominee after six years in limbo.

  • June 18, 2010

    Helping to kick off the 2010 ACS National Convention, Sen. Al Franken criticized Republican efforts to scuttle the Obama administration's nominations to the federal courts and numerous administration positions. 

  • June 17, 2010

    Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's initial nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provided a ringing call for young lawyers and other advocates of progressive values to stay to true to their principles and not fear speaking out on behalf of them for fear of losing potential political rewards.

  • June 11, 2010
    The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which is charged with providing the administration legal analysis on potential executive branch actions and policies has gone too long without a leader, writes Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law school professor, whose nomination to head the OLC was defeated by Republican opposition, in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

    Johnsen maintains that her criticism of the OLC's legal analysis regarding torture during the Bush years played a part in her nomination's demise. But, she writes, that it "is long past time to halt the damage caused by the ‘torture memo' by settling on a bipartisan understanding of the proper role of this critical office and confirming an assistant attorney general committed to that understanding."

    Johnsen, acting assistant attorney general in the OLC during the Clinton administration, and a former ACS Board member, continues:

    After the torture memo came to light, I led 19 former OLC lawyers in developing 10 "Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel." We called for a return to long-standing, nonpartisan practice. The results were not flashy proposals for change but the carefully considered consensus of experience. The first principle, from which the others follow: "When providing legal advice to guide contemplated executive branch action, OLC should provide an accurate and honest appraisal of applicable law, even if that advice will constrain the administration's pursuit of desired policies."

    Put plainly, the OLC must be willing to say no to the president under any circumstances. The office does the president no favors by allowing its legal analysis to be twisted by policy or partisan preferences, even in the midst of crisis, as the months after Sept. 11 undoubtedly were.

    Her entire op-ed is available here.

    Johnsen will provide remarks on the first day, June 17, of the 2010 ACS National Convention, "The Constitution, Congress, and the Courts," before a Gala Dinner at which Senator Al Franken will be the featured speaker. Today is the last day for early registration for the Convention. Click here to register and obtain a full schedule.

  • April 9, 2010

    President Obama's nominee to lead the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), selected well over a year ago, has withdrawn her nomination, The Associated Press reported Friday. Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law school professor, who has extensive service in the OLC, serving as its acting head during the Clinton administration, faced vociferous opposition from Senate Republicans and conservative pundits. Johnsen, a former member of the ACS Board of Directors, was targeted for her past work on behalf of reproductive rights groups and her criticism of the Bush administration's OLC, especially its memorandums advocating for torture of military detainees.

    White House spokesman Ben LaBolt blamed Senate Republicans for the failed nomination.
    "Her credentials are exemplary and her commitment to the rule of law has been proven time and again, but it is now clear that Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed," LaBolt said. He added that "it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to - to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch."

    Johnsen's nomination received the backing of former Department of Justice leaders, of both political persuasions, scores of law school professors and newspaper editorial pages nationwide. Attorney General Eric Holder on numerous occasions strongly urged the Senate to stop holding up Johnsen's confirmation.

    In March, 400 law professors sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging it move her nomination.

    The letter, in part, maintained:

    Professor Johnsen is immensely qualified for this position. She has extensive previous experience in the Office of Legal Counsel, including service as its acting head for more than a year during the Clinton Administration. Doug Kmiec - the OLC head under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush - has applauded Professor Johnsen's track record during that service, noting that she "repeatedly separated policy preference from rendered opinion."

    In February, The New York Times editorial paged blasted Republican obstructionism, calling Johnsen, "a highly qualified choice" whose nomination has drawn "baseless objection."