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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Justice Delayed

Cross post from Nan Aron on Huffington Post

You may have heard that Republicans in the U.S. Senate are blocking the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, and you may be wondering, “So what?”

This actually matters. A lot.

The person who heads that office tells the executive branch of government which actions it is considering are legal and constitutional and which infringe on such basic rights as freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and privacy.

This is the job that Jay Bybee held during the Bush administration when he wrote his infamous memo providing legal cover for illegal torture and wiretapping without warrants.

President Obama has nominated Dawn Johnsen to restore integrity to the office.

She served there for five years under President Clinton, including as acting director.

She’s a distinguished law professor at Indiana University who specializes in the question of protecting against abuses of executive power.

She spearheaded an effort by legal experts who served in the Clinton administration to develop guidelines to ensure that the Office of Legal Counsel fulfills its proper role in the future.

In other words, she’s exactly what you would look for in a qualified nominee.

That’s why she is supported by Doug Kmiec, who was deputy director of that office under Bush Sr.; Walter Dellinger, who ran the office under Clinton; and Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff.

So why are Senate Republicans using a threatened filibuster to block a vote on the nomination they know they would lose?

Number one -- partisan politics. At this point, if President Obama said he favors the sun coming up in the morning, most Republican senators would object, saying it comes up too far to the left.

Number two -- the Republican’s extreme ideological agenda. They are attacking Johnsen because she spoke out against the misuse of the Justice Department to justify illegal torture by the Bush administration. Apparently, anyone against illegal acts by the President is unfit to serve.

They are also attacking her for supporting the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. That decision is supported by a large majority of Americans because for more than 35 years it has protected our right to privacy and kept the government out of our personal lives. If favoring Roe v. Wade disqualifies someone from serving our nation, there will need to be an awful lot of resignations from office, including President Obama himself, a majority of the Senate and House of Representatives, and a majority of the Supreme Court.

Then, there’s a third reason for the filibuster threat against Dawn Johnsen. I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you, but it seems that some Republican senators have an allergic reaction to women in positions of responsibility. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) ridiculed Johnsen, saying she does not have the “seriousness” for the job. Can you imagine Republican senators saying that about a man who formerly held the job to which he was being appointed and whose academic specialty as a law professor was the very subject he would be dealing with in that position?

The partisan obstructionists in the Senate are hoping that the public won’t bother to contact their senators about a nomination many Americans know little about. I hope they’re wrong.

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