(CNSNews.com) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 12-7 along party lines for the full Senate to cast an up-or-down vote on Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. It was the second time since President Obama first nominated Johnsen one year ago that the committee has approved her nomination.
Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, had to be re-nominated by President Barack Obama after the Senate failed to vote on her appointment before its winter recess.
The Office of Legal Counsel provides authoritative legal advice to the president and all the Executive Branch agencies, reviewing all executive orders and proclamations to be issued by the president, the Justice Department Web site says. The office also provides legal advice to the Executive Branch on all constitutional questions and reviews the constitutionality of pending legislation.
Republican committee members who oppose the nomination made it clear that they believe Johnsen’s past activism with liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and her pro-abortion stance disqualify her for the post.
“She has aggressively opposed even modest restrictions on abortion, such as partial birth abortion, and parental involvement,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said at Thursday's hearing.
He cited a legal brief co-authored by Johnsen that said public facilities and public funding should be used for abortions.
“She made the argument that, quote, ‘legal abortion remains safer than childhood,’ end of quote.” Grassley said. “And that bans on abortion might undermine the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery. And that, quote, ‘forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continual physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest,’ end of quote.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) voted against Johnsen’s nonimation by proxy on Thursday, issuing a statement to explain his opposition: “Ms. Johnsen’s statements demonstrate a record of extremism and blatant partisanship on sensitive issues such as abortion and voting rights,” Coburn said. “As a strong pro-life advocate, physician, and originalist, I cannot, in good conscience, support her nomination.”
Republicans said Johnsen’s approach to national security also concerns them.
“As head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Johnsen would be the senior official responsible for making legal judgments in the war on terror,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said. “But her alarming record should disqualify her from this crucial role.
“Her sweeping condemnations of counterterrorism policies have been factually and legally wrong -- and clearly tinted through the lens of her leftist agenda,” Sessions added.
“Professor Johnsen has spent nearly 20 years using legal analysis advancing far-left causes, and often dismisses outright views with which she disagrees,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said. “She has every right to be an ideological legal activist, but not as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Democrats said for years that the Justice Department generally, and Office of Legal Counsel specifically, must be devoid of politics and ideology and Professor Johnsen fails that test.”
But Democrats argued that Johnsen is highly qualified for the position, given her service in the same office during the Clinton administration. They also said her liberal views don’t present a conflict.
“So what?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of the liberal opinions Johnsen has expressed in past papers and speeches. Feinstein said she believed Johnsen could still be objective in her new role. “It doesn’t mean that she cannot make the change,” Feinstein said.
“This is a very brilliant woman,” Feinstein said. “She has written some very strong writings. She happens to oppose the concept of the unitary executive, which many of us do.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there is nothing wrong with Johnsen’s views on war. “As one of the 23 senators that voted against the war in Iraq, I guess I’m an anti-war activist,” Durbin said.
But Republicans – who were denied a request for a second hearing on Johnsen’s re-nomination – said the nominee’s stance on security and social issues are valid reasons for opposing her nomination.
“The selection of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel is one of the most partisan nominations the resident has made,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “Given her troubling legal views on terrorism, her documented history of allowing political preferences to infect her legal positions, and her startling views on abortion, it should come as no surprise that her nomination once again did not receive a single Republican vote in the Judiciary Committee.”
“The Office of Legal Counsel is supposed to be objective and free from partisan motive,” Grassley said. “I’m concerned that Dawn Johnsen’s politics will inappropriately influence her legal analysis and severely undermine the neutrality of this important office.”
See earlier story:
Obama Re-nominates Dawn Johnsen But Republicans Say Her Pro-Abortion Views Disqualify Her for DOJ Post (Jan. 26, 2010)