Amid continued rumblings that the Senate might not confirm her, supporters of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel are stepping up efforts for a vote.
Two former heads of the office held a conference call today with reporters and bloggers in what they described as part of a larger effort to jumpstart her stalled nomination. They touted Johnsen’s academic qualifications and her experience in the office during the Clinton administration.
“Dawn and I are people who come from different points on the policy spectrum, but one of the things I’ve long admired about her is her independence of mind,” said Douglas Kmiec, who served as head of and principal deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1985 to 1989.
Kmiec, now a Pepperdine University law professor, outlined his support for Johnsen in a Legal Times opinion column this month. Today he blamed the opposition on “rank politics.” He said, “I find the objections to Professor Johnsen to be quite incredible and aimed, as so many of these things are aimed, at producing a defeat on a partisan basis.”
President Barack Obama nominated Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University at Bloomington, in January. The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed her last month on a party-line vote, and since then it hasn’t been clear that Democrats have the 60 or more votes they would need to end debate in the full Senate.
Republicans, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), have not agreed on a time to debate and vote on her nomination. Specter has not said whether he intends to vote in favor of ending debate, and some Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), are pushing for the party to unify against Johnsen. The release of OLC memos from the Bush administration authorizing waterboarding and other interrogation techniques has added another complicating factor.
Walter Dellinger, a Duke University law professor who is head of the appellate practice at O’Melveny & Myers, was Johnsen’s boss when he led the Office of Legal Counsel early in the Clinton administration. “What is different about her nomination than others is simply that we know what she will do in the job,” he said on the conference call. “We don’t have to guess by looking at snippets.”
Though Obama has offered little public support for Johnsen, Dellinger said he isn’t worried that the White House might give up on the nomination. “I think the president made a very strong statement when he nominated Dawn Johnsen and stands by the nomination,” he said.
The conference call was organized by a coalition of liberal groups, including Alliance for Justice, NARAL Pro-Choice America (of which Johnsen was once the legal director), the National Women's Law Center, and People for the American Way. Also in support of Johnsen, People for the American Way has been sending out automated phone calls, featuring actress Kathleen Turner, to nine states.