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Dawn Johnsen Will Be Re-Nominated

Based on multiple reports and my own confirmation, the White House plans to re-nominate Dawn Johnsen to the post of Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen joins five other nominees who will be returned to the Senate by the White House for confirmation. Here they are:

Dawn Johnsen, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General (Legal Counsel), Department of Justice
Chris Schroeder, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General (Legal Policy), Department of Justice
Mary Smith, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General (Tax Division), Department of Justice
Craig Becker, Nominee for Member of the National Labor Relations Board
Louis Butler, Jr., Nominee for United States District Judge for the Western District of Wisconsin
Edward Chen, Nominee for United States District Judge for the Northern District of California

Johnsen is the most high-profile of these nominees, but Craig Becker’s re-nomination is important as well. The National Labor Relations Board has only two of its five members, and under agreement, until Becker is confirmed the other two would not be able to join the NLRB as well.

But Johnsen’s re-nomination is the most crucial here. The President has been criticized by civil liberties advocates for his terrorism policies, and Johnsen’s role at OLC would be kind of a Supreme Court inside the Justice Department, determining what can and cannot be done by the President. For the most part, all of the memos and legal opinions that came out of the Bush White House justifying things like torture came out of the OLC. Progressives had been concerned that Johnsen’s nomination was languishing because the President had turned away from the ideals he expressed on the campaign trail. But she will be re-nominated, and groups are applauding the move. Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, said in a statement, “President Obama made an excellent choice in Professor Johnsen to lead OLC, and today he’s shown his willingness to stand on principle and call the Republicans on their attack and delay tactics… Professor Johnsen’s legal scholarship, her integrity, her substantive knowledge, and her commitment to this nation’s security and to the rule of law will serve this country well once she’s confirmed.”

Johnsen will hopefully represent a small bulwark against the slippage on civil liberties. I say hopefully because it’s really the President’s call:

“I think if people are pinning their hopes on Dawn Johnsen pressuring the Obama administration to go to ‘charge-or-release’ for Guantanamo detainees they are mistaken,” said Ken Gude, a human rights expert at the Center for American Progress. “But I think overall having Dawn at OLC is far better for [human rights groups] than not having her in there.”

“The only person who could change the policy at this point is the president,” Gude added.

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David Dayen

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