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Three More DOJ Nominees Confirmed, But Dawn Johnsen Still Waits « The Washington Independent

On Monday night, the Senate confirmed three nominees to lead key divisions at the Justice Department: Lanny Breuer to lead the Criminal Division; Christine Varney to lead the Antitrust Division, and Tony West to lead the Civil Division. All were confirmed with overwhelming support.

Although the Senate has now confirmed eight of President Obama’s Justice Department nominees, it still hasn’t voted on Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s pick fir assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen’s hearing was held before the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 25, and the committee voted to send her nomination to the full Senate on March 19.

The holdup on Johnsen isn’t a big surprise. Before her nomination, Johnsen was harshly critical of the OLC under President George W. Bush for some legal memos authorizing abusive interrogation techniques — noting the “shockingly flawed content” of John Yoo’s March 2003 “torture memo” — and for the office’s secrecy. At her confirmation hearing, she advocated the release of all OLC memos interpreting statutory authority. She also faced criticism for allegedly radical positions taken decades ago in legal briefs defending the right to an abortion.

Still, there’s little question that Johnsen, a constitutional law professor at Indiana University and former OLC lawyer under President Clinton, is eminently qualified for the job. She has written extensively on the role of the OLC to provide the White House with objective legal advice, not merely with legal justifications for whatever it wants to do.

Recently, former OLC director Douglas Miec, who served under President Ronald Reagan, advocated Johnsen’s confirmation in an editorial in Legal Times. “Even as Johnsen, a professor of law at Indiana University-Bloomington, may be faulted on occasion for harsh language in her academic commentary on the missteps of the Bush Justice Department,” he wrote, “it is that very spunk and independence of mind that make her the right tonic for a once proud, but recently tarnished, office.”

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