Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, June 20
The Indiana Daily Student

world

Senate refuses to confirm IU professor to Dept. of Justice

Abortion stance, Bush bashing among controversies

Indiana University School of Law professor Dawn Johnsen.

It’s been almost a year since President Barack Obama nominated IU professor Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel. But because of party politics, Johnsen’s confirmation remains in senatorial limbo.

Johnsen, a professor at IU’s Maurer School of Law, was one of six nominees for federal posts who were not voted in during December.

The OLC, which is part of the Department of Justice, aids and advises the attorney general, who in turn acts as a direct legal adviser to the president of the United States.

The OLC has been described as the “President’s law firm.” Johnsen worked with the OLC from 1993 to 1998 and served as a deputy assistant attorney general as well as an acting assistant attorney general.

Johnsen was nominated by President Obama last January and almost a full year later, she has not received a Senate confirmation vote, with many Republican senators choosing not to vote at all.

If a nominee is not voted on by the end of a Congressional session, he or she must be voted for unanimously or their nomination must be resubmitted by the Obama administration.

During the confirmation, Johnsen was criticized for her stance on reproductive rights and her harsh criticism of the OLC’s role during the Bush administration - particularly its part in condoning the interrogation policies put forth by the Bush administration.
In a 2007 statement, Johnsen said the “root cause of the current crisis at the (Department of Justice) is President Bush’s utter failure to honor this most basic constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the laws.”

She went on to say that the president, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, set a tone of “disregard for the law.”

Johnsen has also drawn the ire of the Republican Party because of her firm pro-choice stance on reproductive rights. She worked for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League from 1988 until she began at the OLC in 1993.

Johnsen was also accused of having made a 13th Amendment argument about abortion, which states that women, when disallowed abortion, are subject to involuntary servitude. Johnsen proposed a 14th Amendment argument for abortion.

Thirty-seven Republicans voted against her nomination. While 57 Democrats, aided by Sen. Richard Lugar,R-Ind., supported her, they were ultimately unable to muster enough support to overcome the Republican filibuster.

The Democrats fell three votes short: 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. Because it seems unlikely that she will receive a unanimous vote into the position she was nominated for, her only option will be being resubmitted by the Obama administration.

The question now is whether she will be re-submitted. Hannah Buxbaum, executive associate dean for academic affairs at the Maurer School, is confident that Johnsen will be renominated, stating that she had “no reason to doubt the accuracy of those reports.”

“We feel she’s eminently qualified for the position,” Buxbaum said in a statement to Indiana Lawyer Daily. “She’s a leading constitutional law scholar, particularly on the topic of separation of powers and other topics related to the position. More importantly, she already served in the position.”

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe