Roll Call reports that conservatives look poised to successfully block the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared that his hands were tied without the assistance of a few Republican votes:
“Right now we’re finding out when to do that,” Reid said, responding to a question about the status of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to the Justice post. “We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60.”
It’s unclear why 60 votes are needed to confirm Johnsen, considering her predecessor, Jay Bybee — who went on to authorize illegal torture — won easy confirmation in 2001 through a simple voice vote. Bybee’s successor, Jack Goldsmith, was also approved by a voice vote. Steven Bradbury served for three years as an acting OLC head, and so did not have to come up for a vote. Having a full — and filibuster-proof — Senate vote on Johnsen would be an unusual break with recent precedent.
Senators opposing Johnsen include new Democrat Arlen Specter (PA), who announced his opposition to Johnsen on the day he decided to switch parties, though he has yet to explain why he opposes her. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has said he “is concerned about her outspoken pro-choice views on abortion.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) insists that Johnsen “has not demonstrated the seriousness and necessary resolve to address the national security challenges we face.”
Johnsen is eminently qualified to head the OLC. She has been an outspoken critic of Bush’s torture and eavesdropping programs, argues persuasively for accountability for wrongdoing, and has written passionately in support of checks and balances and against executive branch power grabs. She is a strong progressive candidate who could restore the tainted OLC to a place of legal professionalism and pride. And, like the majority of Americans, Johnsen thinks abortions should be safe and legal in most cases.
Specter and Nelson can find little in Johnsen’s sterling record to substantively critique, and Reid shouldn’t let them stand in the way. Indeed, their opposition to her breaks their track record for supporting previous OLC heads like Bybee. Remember, when Bush nominated Bybee for a federal judgeship, Specter, Nelson, Cornyn, and Reid all voted to confirm him.