OLC Nominee Could Face Bruising Battle with Republicans

Created: February 25, 2009 18:13 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Dawn Johnsen could face a difficult confirmation battle to head the Office of Legal Counsel, if Republicans like Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are intent on painting the Indiana University law professor as a radical left-wing ideologue.

Specter’s staff has obviously been digging into the right-wing media, because at her confirmation hearing today, the senator brought up a 20-year-old footnote buried in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court in an abortion case — and highlighted in a recent National Review article by Andrew McCarthy — to accuse Johnsen of equating pregnancy with slavery.

“In your writings you go pretty far to one end of the political spectrum,” said Specter. “When I read in your writings that abortion bans are a violation of the 13th Amendment ban on slavery, that seems to me candidly beyond the pale.”

Johnsen was clearly flustered.

“I have never argued that there’s a 13th amendment violation when the government restricts abortion,” she said, though the rest of her answer was pretty muddled. From the discourse during the hearing, it wasn’t really clear what she had actually written in that brief.

Not that it really matters. At the time, she was a lawyer for the National Abortion Rights Action League, whose job is to fight legal restrictions on abortion rights. Sounds like Johnsen was just being a little creative.

However, that’s not likely to come up in her future job, if she’s confirmed, as OLC director. In any event, she made clear during the hearing, as she has in her writings, that the role of the OLC director is not to advocate for any particular position, but to present the executive branch with a fair and impartial reading of the law.