Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen does not have a job in Washington yet. But her family is already settling into life in the nation’s capital, her former colleagues told Main Justice this week.
Johnsen started renting a house in Maryland for her family earlier this summer. Her kids — boys ages 10 and 12 — are attending the local public school. Her husband, John M. Hamilton, is the president of D.C.-based City First Enterprises, which develops affordable housing in Washington.
“I think Dawn is proceeding…with confidence,” one former colleague told Main Justice.
Johnsen and Hamilton declined to be interviewed for this report.
Life for Johnsen, however, is not going according to plan. The Indiana University law professor will be traveling between Washington and Bloomington on a regular basis this fall to teach “Sexuality, Reproduction and the Law” at IU’s Maurer School of Law as she waits for the Senate to move on her nomination.
It has been more than five months since the Senate Judiciary Committee reported her nomination to the full Senate on a party-line vote. But objections from Republicans have kept the nomination from moving forward. Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster - a task made harder by Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) death this week and the frail condition of ailing Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
It isn’t clear who’s blocking her nomination. But leading Senate Republicans including Judiciary Committee members John Cornyn (Texas) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) have criticized Johnsen for her support of abortion rights and her strong disapproval of the Bush administration legal memos used to justify torture against suspected terrorists.
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) has sent mixed signals. The former ranking member of the Senate Judiciary panel didn’t vote on her nomination in committee. Specter later switched parties and faces an uphill battle for re-election next year. He has said he opposes Johnsen’s confirmation. But he hasn’t said how he will vote on the all-important procedural motion to end debate, known as cloture. Click here to read our previous report about how Johnsen gets to 60 votes needed for cloture.
Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) is the only Republican publicly to support of Johnsen. Democrats are hopeful they still may persuade Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, moderate Republicans who remain undecided.
But even Democrats aren’t all behind Johnsen. Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) hasn’t said how he will vote. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) is against her confirmation, though he has said he will vote with Democrats on cloture.