Women’s advocacy groups are pressuring Maine’s GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to support Dawn Johnsen’s long-stalled nomination to head the Justice Department’s Office Legal Counsel.
The Indiana University law professor “deserves a confirmation vote,” Kate Brogan of the Family Planning Association of Maine told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. For months, Collins and Snowe have refused to say where they stand on the Johnsen nomination. Objections from Senate Republicans mean Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Collins and Snowe are moderate Republicans in an increasingly conservative party. At home, they are popular. Collins was re-elected in 2008 with 62% percent of the vote and Snowe won re-election in 2006 with 74% of the vote. But on Capitol Hill, they stand nearly alone in the Senate Republican Conference as strong supporters of abortion-rights. The Maine Republicans have a 100-percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Back when NARAL was known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Johnsen worked as a lawyer for the abortions-rights group. That’s one reason Senate Republicans have objected to her. She was also a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, which authorized the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspects, which both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have called torture. Johnsen was nominated on Feb. 11, and the Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded her name to the full Senate in March.
And still, she awaits a confirmation vote.
Sarah Standiford, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said the OLC “play[s] a key role in protecting our constitutional rights,” including the right to privacy. She added that Johnsen’s nomination is “particularity important” because of Johnsen’s record of supporting privacy rights.
State Rep. Cynthia Dill (D-Maine) told reporters Johnsen “is a constitutional expert” who “has the experience” needed to do the job. She touted Johnsen’s “sound and independent legal advice.” Added Dill: ”Dawn Johnsen has a reputation of being fiercely independent and does not let partisan politics get in the way of defending the Constitution.”
Also Tuesday, a coalition of liberal-leaning activist and civil rights groups sent this letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to protest lack of action on the nominations of Johnsen and Tom Perez, tapped by Obama to lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. The groups said they were “particularly troubled,” by the long delay on Johnsen.
Johnsen has come under criticism from Republicans for her outspokenness and her writings. The nominee has expressed skepticism over the legality of a Bush-era memo that carved out an exemption for faith-based groups seeking government contracts. She has written that the broad reading of presidential authority in the Bush administration was “outlandish,” and its constitutional arguments were “shockingly flawed.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) efforts to get 60 votes to move forward on Johnsen have been hampered in part by the long illness and recent death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who succumbed earlier this month to brain cancer. Kennedy’s replacement has not been named. Also, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who is 91 years old, has been absent from the Senate due to illness.
But with Collins and Snowe on board, Reid would have the votes to get Johnsen over the procedural hurdle and confirmed, according to Senate aides.