Amid lopsided support Monday for Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., one Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee had some pointed criticism for several still-pending nominees for top positions at the Department of Justice.
Speaking from the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) rebuked two of the nominees for their legal work in the high-profile cases of John Walker Lindh and Terri Schiavo and two other nominees for their views on abortion and on the military. Sessions will have a chance to question each nominee when the committee holds confirmation hearings.
“We don’t need the Department of Justice to become a liberal bastion,” he said.
His comments came during the Senate’s three-hour debate over Holder’s nomination. Sessions voted for Holder in the Judiciary Committee last week and again in the full Senate late Monday.
After briefly praising Holder, Sessions turned to the role of Solicitor General nominee Elena Kagan in trying to limit the presence of military recruiters at universities that receive federal funds. In Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2006 that Congress may require such access even if the universities object to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays and lesbians serving openly.
A group of Harvard Law School professors—including Kagan, in her role as a professor and not as dean—supported a brief arguing that law schools could restrict military recruiters’ access because they would treat any other employer who violated the schools' nondiscrimination policies in the same way. The Court rejected that argument.
Though the Harvard professors were not the lead plaintiffs in the case, Sessions said Kagan “led the fight” and “led that battle.” He added, “It was voted down in the Supreme Court 8-0.”
In rapid succession, he then criticized three other nominees. Sessions, who opposes abortion, denounced Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, nominated to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, for her time as a lawyer for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
He expressed disapproval of Jenner & Block partner Thomas Perrelli, nominated to be associate attorney general, because Perrelli represented Michael Schiavo, who drew national attention in 2005 for efforts to have his wife, Terri, taken off life support. And Sessions criticized Morrison & Foerster partner Tony West, nominated to head the Civil Division, for representing Lindh, an American captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and now serving a prison sentence for serving with the Taliban.
Sessions did not elaborate on his criticisms because his debate time was limited. A call to his office Tuesday was not returned. The Judiciary Committee has not set hearing dates for any of the four nominees.