Nominee to Head Office of Legal Counsel Held Up, Again

For the second week in a row, the Senate Judiciary Committee refrained from voting on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The committee lost a quorum – and thus its ability to vote on it – shortly before her nomination was to be brought up. Her nomination will likely be considered again when the committee meets on February 25, according to a report by Main Justice. She has faced opposition from Senate Republicans over her positions on abortion and national security.

Johnsen made it through committee on a party line vote last March, but her nomination stalled on the Senate floor. Following Senate procedure, it was sent back to the president on Christmas Eve. She currently works as a law professor at Indiana University-Bloomington and is teaching this semester.

The OLC, made infamous during the Bush administration for issuing the “torture memos,” acts as a legal adviser to the president and the executive branch. Experts say that Johnsen would bring a renewed focus on civil liberties to the OLC.

“What is missing in Obama’s inner circle are any prominent voices in favor of civil liberties,” said Jonathan Turley, a liberal law professor at George Washington University and an expert on homeland security and constitutional law. “She would help bring greater balance.”

President Obama, in an impromptu briefing with White House reporters on Tuesday, addressed the stalling tactics being used by Republicans to hold up his nominees. “I respect the Senate’s role to advise and consent, but for months, qualified, non-controversial nominees for critical positions in government, often positions related to our national security, have been held up despite having overwhelming support,” Obama said.

“If the Senate does not act – and I made this very clear – if the Senate does not act to confirm these nominees, I will consider making several recess appointments during the upcoming recess, because we can’t afford to allow politics to stand in the way of a well-functioning government.”