Senate Panel Approves Johnsen Nomination
By Andrew Ramonas | March 4, 2010 11:12 am

The Senate Judiciary Committee today endorsed Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen along a party-line vote after a tense debate over her views.

Dawn Johnsen (Indiana University)

The panel voted to report Johnsen out of committee by a 12-7 vote. “I have to admit that [my] decision was not even a close call,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said today at the panel’s business meeting before he voted against her.

Republicans sharply criticized her vocal opposition to the President George W. Bush’s national security policies and her past work for an abortion rights group.

“Her advocacy and policy work with liberal organizations suggests that she is an aggressive partisan who will work to invoke her political views through the Office of Legal Counsel,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “I’m concerned such extreme advocacy will undermine the objectivity that this important office ought to have.”

Democrats touted her qualifications, noting her service in the OLC during the Clinton administration and her current job as a law professor at Indiana University. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Johnsen’s opinions should not disqualify her from leading the OLC and she would be able to be effective in the office.

“To [Johnsen's liberal leanings] I say, ’so what?’” Feinstein said. “It doesn’t mean that she cannot make the change.”

This is the second time she was reported out of committee along a party-line vote. The committee first moved her out of committee on a 11-7 vote on March 19, 2009, with then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voting “pass.” Her nomination then languished in the Senate for more than nine months before it was returned to the White House. President Obama re-nominated her last January.

Johnsen had sat on the panel’s agenda since Jan. 28. She was held over the first time at the request of panel Republicans. The committee was then forced to hold her over twice more because the panel lost its quorum and its ability to conduct business. Last week, the panel held her over again because of Obama’s health care summit, which several committee members attended, was scheduled for the same time as the panel’s meeting.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blamed Republicans for the delays on Johnsen’s confirmation. But Republicans have insisted that the Democrats could have brought her nomination up for a vote last year.

“It has been more than a year since President Obama first nominated Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel,” Leahy said. “Yet that critical office charged with providing legal advice to the president and the executive branch still remains without its Senate-confirmed leader.”

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