Former OLC Nominee Johnsen: ‘I Have No Regrets’
By Andrew Ramonas | June 18, 2022 8:30 am

Dawn Johnsen on Thursday night defended her progressive views that ultimately led to her withdrawal as Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee, telling young lawyers at a legal convention not to be afraid to take tough public stances.

Dawn Johnsen (American Constitution Society)

Johnsen, who withdrew in April, spoke at the annual American Constitution Society National Convention in D.C. and said it was “wrong” that her nomination was tied up in the Senate for months. Johnsen was the target of intense criticism from Republicans because of her opposition to the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies and her pro-abortion rights stance.

“As to whether I would have changed any of my positions or softened my stances or decided to sit out a few issues, my message could not be more clear or more simple: I have no regrets,” Johnsen said in her first public appearance in a year and a half.

The former nominee took aim at a New York Times editorial that said her withdrawal sent a “chilling message” to people considering public service: “don’t stand on principle and certainly don’t speak out in public.” She said that wasn’t the lesson to learn from her “nomination saga.”

Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, said young lawyers shouldn’t be scared to speak out publicly about their views, adding it is “the patriotic thing to do.”

“In the current climate, even if you attempt a crass political calculus about how to live your life, you may as well say what you think because they could always find a footnote to twist into a story from a 20-year-old brief,” Johnsen said referring to the footnote she wrote in a 1989 pro-abortion rights brief in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

She wrote in the footnote that “forced pregnancy” was “involuntary servitude.” Republicans claimed she was referring to motherhood as “involuntary servitude” in what she called Thursday a “damn good brief.”

The former OLC nominee was treated to two standing ovations and numerous rounds of applause during her 14-minute address to members of the American Constitution Society, a liberal legal society where she has reclaimed a seat on the board.

“It’s a phenomenal organization and I’m glad I’m in a position to be able to [join the board] again,” Johnsen told the crowd, prompting one member to shout out: “We’re not!”

“Maybe [it's] not my first choice,” she conceded.

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