Former Head of NARAL Facing Obstacles Getting Job At DOJ


Seven nominees have been dropped from the Senate’s list of people to confirm. One is Dawn Johnsen. The constitutional law professor was tapped to head a crucial office at the Department of Justice responsible for interpreting the law and the extent of executive power.

Dawn Johnsen’s grueling road to confirmation to head the Office of Legal Counsel has hit another obstacle.

Her nomination was sent back to the White House because Senate rules state that at the end of the year, all Senators must agree by unanimous consent to keep nominees on the docket for the chance to be confirmed once lawmakers return in the new year.

But Johnsen was one of seven nominees, out of dozens still pending, the Senate could not agree to keep.

Republican objections joined with concerns by two Democrats, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Both are concerned about her position on abortion. She has served as head of NARAL and has said that forcing a woman to have a baby amounts to involuntary servitude. (The Office of Legal Counsel does not deal with issues of abortion.)

Dawn Johnsen was one of President Obama’s first nominees. He announced his intent to nominate her to head the Office of Legal Council last January, before he was even sworn into office.

The division at the Department of Justice interprets the law for the Executive branch.

Supporters hailed her as the person to reign in the expansion of Presidential powers during the Bush administration. Johnsen criticized Bush administration legal counsel heads John Yoo and Jay Bybee for expanding domestic surveillance and legalizing torture.

Now it is up to the President to re-nominate her. The White House has not led a vocal fight on Johnsen’s behalf. Obama administration officials did not return requests for comment.

A non-confirmed interim director is acting as head of the Office of Legal Council until Johnsen, or someone else, is confirmed.

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