Obama Nominates Seitz to Head OLC

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.

"There is no simple answer to why my nomination failed," she wrote. "But I have no doubt that the OLC torture memo -- and my profoundly negative reaction to it -- was a critical factor behind the substantial Republican opposition that sustained a filibuster threat. Paradoxically, prominent Republicans earlier had offered criticisms strikingly similar to my own. A bipartisan acceptance of those criticisms is key to moving forward. The Senate should not confirm anyone who defends that memo as acceptable legal advice."

During a speech at the ACS 2010 National Convention, Johnsen said she has no regrets about her outspoken criticism of the Bush Administration's OLC and encouraged other attorneys not to be cowed into silence by political ambitions. Watch her remarks here.