This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Down party lines, she was voted out of Committee 11-7; her nomination will now head to the floor.
Although Ms. Johnsen is a well-regarded scholar and spent five years in leadership roles at the OLC under the Clinton administration — one and a half of those years as head — Republicans were quick to dismiss her qualifications. The low point of the hearing took place when Senator Cornyn (R-TX) suggested that Ms. Johnsen shouldn’t head the OLC because she lacked the “requisite seriousness” needed for the job. AFJ President, Nan Aron observed, “Senator Cornyn rejected a highly qualified nominee, citing a reason he never would have relied on with a male candidate. Beyond the blatant double-standard, his justification doesn’t pass the laugh test.” It is unclear what level of scholarship and experience would, under Senator Cornyn’s analysis, place her in the “serious” category. Former Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger, who worked with Ms. Johnsen while she was at OLC, wrote that the unofficial office rule was “Dawn Johnsen is always right” because very often her first answer was the best one. She not only understands the demands of the job, but her body of work has focused on the very separation of power issues that former Bush OLC heads failed to understand when they justified the use of torture and unchecked executive power.
Ms. Johnsen’s nomination sends a signal that President Obama is committed to putting the best people forward. Her record demonstrates that she will not only keep faith with core constitutional values when advising the president on legal matters, but approach each situation with an open mind.
Her nomination will soon be considered by the full Senate.