With the exception of Civil Rights Division nominee Tom Perez, it seems unlikely the Senate will hold confirmation votes on other top Department of Justice nominees before the August recess, a Democratic aide with knowledge of the process told Main Justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is consumed by preparations for the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination hearings that begin July 13. And Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has threatened to put holds on some DOJ nominees until the department delivers written answers to several outstanding requests for information.
That means much of the Department’s top leadership probably will not be in place until September or later. Of the 15 DOJ nominees requiring Senate confirmation, six have yet to clear the hurdles. Here’s where they stand:
DAWN JOHNSEN: President Obama’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee more than 90 days ago. The Democratic leadership has since tried to coax its counterparts in the minority to support a vote on the nomination, but the Republicans have refused to bite even with the August recess quickly approaching, the Democratic aide said Tuesday.
Leading Republicans including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona have criticized Johnsen for her position on abortion rights and her strong disapproval of the Bush administration legal memos used to justify torture against suspected terrorists.
Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has tried to round up enough votes to prevent a Republican filibuster of Johnsen for months. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana is the only Republican who has come out in support of Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University in Lugar’s home state. Democrats are hopeful they still may persuade Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, moderate Republicancs who remain undecided on the OLC nominee.
But, even Democrats aren’t fully committed to Johnsen. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) hasn’t said how he will vote, and Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) oppose her nomination. Nelson, however, has said he will vote with his party on a motion to cut off debate over Johnsen’s nomination - a procedural move to end a filibuster that requires 60 votes.
Snowe said earlier this month that there are other issues facing the Senate that could also delay a vote on the OLC nominee, including Sotomayor and the Obama administration’s ambitious health care system overhaul. ”I don’t know if it [Johnsen's nomination] is going to come up anytime soon,” Snowe said in an interview.
The Judiciary Committee reported the Civil Rights Division nominee to the full Senate on June 4 by a vote of 17-2. Perez, a non-controversial choice who is currently serving as Maryland’s secretary of labor, could go up for a vote in the Senate within a few weeks, the aide said.
The Maryland labor secretary met with Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) in a private meeting Wednesday evening, Kyl told Main Justice in an interview today after a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. Kyl said his colleagues got a “much clearer view” of Perez from the meeting, which Perez’s home-state senator, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), also attended.
Coburn and Sessions had voted against Perez in committee. While it is unclear whether the conservatives will ultimately support Perez’s confirmation, it appears unlikley they will use procedural hurdles to block a floor vote.
“It was a good meeting,” Sessions said in an interview.
MARY L. SMITH:
A Senate vote on Smith will likely come much later, according to the Democratic aide. That’s because Smith, a Chicagoan and Clinton White House veteran who was an early supporter of Barack Obama, is opposed by Republicans for her lack of tax expereince. The Judiciary Committee reported her nomination June 11 on a party-line vote of 12-7. Republicans unanimously opposed her.
“She is inherently unqualified for this job,” Coburn said before the panel vote.
It isn’t clear why Smith was nominated. She is a former in-house counsel at Tyco International but has no prosecuting experience. She is a Native American and headed up the Obama DOJ transition team for the Tax Division. The DOJ issued a statement this week in support of her nomination, acknowleding she is not a “traditional tax lawyer” but arguing that her extensive securities law and litigation experience qualifies her for the job.
Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder will have his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Schroeder is a Duke University law professor and a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Clinton administration. At the OLP, he will be in charge of judicial nominations and legal policy. Read his biohere.
Schroeder served on the Obama transition team for the Department of Justice. A critic of Bush-era legal policies, he was nominated after the president’s first pick for the job, Mark Gitenstein, withdrew under criticism about his lobbying work.
IGNACIA MORENO and LAURIE ROBINSON:
Moreno, counsel for corporate environmental programs at the General Electric Corp., is nominated the head the Environment and Natural Resources Division. Her corporate ties have stirred some controversy. Robinson is nominated to head the Office of Justice Programs. The DOJ veteran is already effectively in the job: She was named Acting Assistant Attorney General/Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP on Jan. 28, 2009. Neither is scheduled yet for a Senate hearing.