Top Official in Office of Legal Counsel to Step Down
By Joe Palazzolo | June 24, 2010 7:39 pm

David Barron, the top official in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel since the start of the Obama administration, will leave next month, The New York Times reported.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel David J. Barron (Getty)

Jonathan Cedarbaum, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, will replace Barron. It’s unclear whether Cedarbaum is being considered as a nominee to head the office, which has been without a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for six years.

The well-publicized nomination of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, President Barack Obama’s first nominee, ended in a deadlock, forcing her to withdrawal earlier this year.

Barron told the Times he was returning to Harvard Law School, which limits tenured professors to two years of leave. Barron, who has three young children, said he was leaving early because he wants to move back to Massachusetts before the start of the school year.

In his time as acting Assistant Attorney General, the office provided advice on range of questions including whether legislation to give Washington, D.C. a voting member of Congress was constitutional; whether President Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause; whether a domestic abuse law covered same-sex couples; and how much contact with al-Qaeda rendered a terrorism suspect eligible for detention without trial.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan G. Cedarbaum (photo by Stephanie Woodrow / Main Justice)

The office took on responsibilities beyond advising the president and the executive branch on the legality of proposed measures. The OLC was heavily involved in determining the status of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and in defending the government’s position in detainee habeas cases.

Of course, the lion’s share of the office’s work under Barron was done in secret and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think I’ll ever have a better job again,” Barron told the Times. “If you like the law and you care about these issues, it’s just a tremendous opportunity to be able to have worked here.”

Cedarbaum, Barron’s successor, was a litigation partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP before joining the Justice Department. While at the firm, he signed onto a brief in case involving six Algerian detainees who were seeking a right to challenge their confinement in federal court.

A group led by Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard famously branded Cedarbaum a member of the “al-Qaeda Seven.” A bipartisan group of prominent lawyers accused the group of tactics verging on McCarthyism.

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