Nominees for the U.S. Department of Justice are rarely high-profile enough to warrant attention in an election. Not so in this year's Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination, sent an e-mail to supporters today about Dawn Johnsen. Johnsen, an Indiana University at Bloomington law professor, is President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and last year Specter helped delay Johnsen’s nomination. Specter was the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.
Sestak, addressing Specter in the e-mail, writes that Specter has another shot to support Johnsen now that Obama is set to renominate her.
“The Office of Legal Counsel is one of the most important offices in the Department of Justice and determines the legality of actions by the President and the Executive Branch,” the e-mail reads. “Because of your obstruction, President Obama is trying keep the country safe from terrorism, end two wars, and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay without a critical legal adviser.”
Republicans, including Specter at the time, have criticized Johnsen for her writings about abortion and civil liberties, and her stalled nomination has become a leading cause for advocates of abortion rights. Johnsen’s supporters say they might have enough votes for confirmation if the Senate’s Democratic leaders decide to take the time to break the GOP filibuster.
A spokeswoman for Specter said his office is preparing a response to Sestak.
UPDATE (3:48 p.m.): A statement from Specter's office: “After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”