Tuesday, January 12, 2010

About Freakin' Time

Image credit: Indiana University

After ten months, Indiana University law Professor Dawn Johnsen may soon be confirmed as head of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel:

It's hard to believe it's been so long, but 10 months ago, President Obama nominated Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Her nomination has been delayed (and delayed some more) thanks to obstructionist tactics -- conservatives have strongly disapproved of her opposition to Bush-era torture memos, her pro-choice positions, and her support of civil liberties.

No More Excuses On Johnsen

The final impetus appears to have come from Rep. Joe Sestak (PA-07). Yes, a U.S. Representative apparently broke the logjam in the Senate, because he's running against Arlen Specter for his Senate seat. Sestak sent a note to Specter earlier this week that said this:

In a letter to Specter, Sestak lays the fact that Johnsen's nomination stagnated and expired at his rival's feet. "Senator Specter, President Obama is giving you a second chance to support his nominee to lead the Office of Legal Counsel," Specter writes.

After you joined your Republican colleagues in successfully blocking Professor Dawn Johnsen from receiving a fair up-or-down vote last year, the President has decided to resubmit her nomination this year.

With Democrat Senator Ben Nelson opposed to Johnsen, but Republican Senator Richard Lugar strongly in favor, that means that all it takes is your vote to put a principled, qualified progressive in this key position.

Sestak goes on to allege that Specter might not want Johnsen--known for being a strong critic of Bush administration policies--to have the power to pull back the veil on a number of government scandals.

Sestak To Specter: Don't Screw Over Dawn Johnsen Again

The rest of the letter is at the link above. It's certainly a plausible explanation, as the OLC was the source of several of the so-called "torture memos" that were written by John Yoo and others. What other crap might have gone on in that office, or in the other activities of the Justice Department during the Bush Administration, would be open to Johnsen once she is confirmed. Plus, as Glenn Greenwald wrote, Ms. Johnsen isn't inclined to let torture and illegal detention happen on her watch:

One of the best things Barack Obama has done since being elected President was selecting Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel -- the office of Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Stephen Bradbury, torture memos, and theories of presidential omnipotence. Johnsen expressed outrage over the extremism and lawlessness of the Bush administration not (like most political and media elites) in the last few weeks when doing so was easy and irrelevant, but did so loudly and continuously while those crimes were actually taking place. Her arguments were grounded in one simple belief: that the duty of the OLC is to tell the President when his desired policies are unconstitutional or otherwise illegal.

Dawn Johnsen's belief in the rule of law disqualifies her from Senate confirmation

That article was written back in May, when it looked like the Senate would never confirm Johnsen, and Obama would then quietly let the nomination drop.

To my amazement, the President reintroduced Ms. Johnsen's nomination, and now, thanks to the slightly less conservative candidate for Senator from Pennsylvania, it will go through. I'm glad to see that I can be pessimistic about what our President will do, and yet still be wrong once in a while. And this is a good thing to be wrong about.

While I can't predict that Johnsen will be able to persuade the President or Attorney General Holder that prosecutions should be started for torture and other crimes committed during the Bush Administration, at least we can be fairly sure they won't happen under the current Administration. That's not all that comforting, but it's better than what we had a few days ago.

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