Johnsen Involved In OLC Hiring Decisions
By Andrew Ramonas | March 23, 2022 6:44 pm

Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen played a role in the hiring of political appointees to the office, according to Attorney General Eric Holder’s written responses to questions posed by senators. The questions were sent by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee after a Nov. 18, 2009,  oversight hearing with Holder and his responses were released Monday.

Dawn Johnsen (Indiana University)

In a question about Johnsen, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, said he thought Johnsen’s involvement in personnel decisions was “inappropriate” because she has not been confirmed by the Senate. Holder disagreed.

“Professor Johnsen’s participation in this process has been appropriate and consistent with the past practice of presidential nominees of both parties,” Holder wrote in response to Sessions. (Holder’s comments on Johnsen can be found on page 35 of the 120-page document.)

Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor, was engaged in the review of political appointees who would be her deputies if she were confirmed, Holder said. But she was not closely involved in the hiring of career attorneys, only occasionally forwarding resumes to the appropriate DOJ officials and sometimes including comments on those applicants, he said. The OLC nominee did not take part in the interviews of candidates for career positions, nor was she involved in the final hiring decisions on those applicants, according to Holder.

Holder said either he or the acting Attorney General ultimately made the OLC political appointments. OLC acting Assistant Attorney General David Barron made the final decisions on career hires in the office.

Johnsen’s involvement in the selection of her deputies seems to indicate that DOJ officials were confident at the time that Johnsen would eventually be confirmed.

Richard Manning, a spokesman for the right-leaning think-tank Americans for Limited Government, told Main Justice that the decision to allow Johnsen to play a role in personnel decisions raises a “strong constitutional concern.” By allowing an un-appointed nominee to have a role in DOJ decisions, Manning said the Obama administration might not be adhering to the advise and consent role of the Senate.

In October, Americans for Limited Government filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on Johnsen’s involvement in OLC personnel decisions. The DOJ has yet to furnish the think tank with the documents it requested, despite a plea from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who opposes Johnsen because of her abortion rights views.

Johnsen was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 4 along a party line vote.  It was the second time she was reported out of committee along a party-line vote.

The panel 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 languished in the Senate for more than nine months before it was returned to the White House in December. President Barack Obama re-nominated her in January.

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

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