An Anniversary NOT to Celebrate
Anniversaries are often occasions to celebrate, and this week marked the one year anniversary of President Obama's nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. But instead of celebrating, we are instead decrying the lengthy passage of time without a Senate vote on this vital nomination. Since a Judiciary Committee hearing on Ms. Johnsen's nomination in late February and a party-line vote out of Committee in late March, the nomination has been the victim of filibuster threats and other obstructionism.
To further complicate the process, at the end of this first session of the 111th Congress, the Senate minority party exercised its power to delay action and refused to allow Johnsen's nomination to remain on the Senate's calendar of business. Therefore, President Obama needed to re-nominate Ms. Johnsen, and the nomination must undergo another vote in the Judiciary Committee before reaching the Senate floor again.
If this seems confusing and exhausting, you're not alone. And Ms. Johnsen isn't alone either--the progress of several of President Obama's executive branch (and judicial) appointments has been thwarted. Many, including Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, even argue that obstructionism of nominees has reached unprecedented levels.
In May of 2009, the Union for Reform Judaism sent a letter to the full Senate, urging them to quickly confirm Johnsen. This letter highlighted Ms. Johnsen's exceptional credentials, including a legal career focused on reproductive rights, a stint at the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton Administration, first as Deputy Assistant Attorney General from 1993 to 1996 and then as Acting Assistant Attorney General from 1997 to 1998, and a professorship at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.
The letter also condemned the attacks against Ms. Johnsen's stances on torture and reproductive freedom and indicated that Johnsen's strong qualifications should be the focus of the debate about her nomination. Our position has not changed. We are pleased that President Obama yesterday announced that he would re-nominate Ms. Johnsen to this critical post and hope that from here forward, she will move swiftly through the confirmation process.
The Office of Legal Counsel needs a leader and Dawn Johnsen is the right woman for the job.