Obama Re-Nominates Pro-Abortion Dawn Johnsen to Justice Department Post
January 21, 2010President Barack Obama sent a list of nominees to the Senate on Wednesday that included the re-nomination of Dawn Elizabeth Johnsen to head the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel .
Johnsen is a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and critics charge that her pro-abortion and anti-war-on-terror activism with groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberties Union disqualify her for the post.
Johnsen was the legal director for NARAL from 1988 to 1993, and a staff counsel fellow for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project in 1987-88. In a 1987 report for the Hastings Center, a bioethics and public policy group, Johnsen wrote an article entitled “A New Threat to Pregnant Women’s Autonomy.”
In the piece, Johnsen claimed that, “Courts and legislatures are increasingly being called upon to restrict the autonomy of pregnant women by requiring them to behave in ways that others determine are best for the fetuses they carry.”
“The state should not attempt to transform pregnant women into ideal baby-making machines,” she wrote.
In 2005, Johnson wrote for the liberal American Constitution Society’s blog about the ban on partial-birth abortion -- passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush -- stating her opposition to the “first federal, rather than state, abortion restriction, criminalizing certain abortions throughout the nation and without regard to state law.”
Johnsen, who served as acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) during the Clinton administration, was a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s strategy for fighting the war on terror. In a 2007 essay for the Harvard Law & Policy Review called “Lessons from the Right: Progressive Constitutionalism for the Twenty-First Century,” Johnsen accused Bush of waging an “indefinite ‘war.’”
“The Bush administration has also provided new cause for alarm: a series of constitutional and statutory interpretations on a host of issues arising out of both traditional armed conflicts (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and an indefinite ‘war’ on terrorism that President Bush asserts makes him a war-time president with expansive commander-in-chief powers,” Johnsen wrote.
She said those powers included establishing military tribunals, holding “enemy combatants” indefinitely, and using “coercive interrogations and even torture.”
On the same day that Obama sent Johnsen’s re-nomination to the Senate, Rep. Steve King (R-Ind.) sent the president a second letter on behalf of himself and 62 fellow members of Congress asking that Johnsen’s nomination be withdrawn, citing her pro-abortion views. (King and his colleagues sent the first letter requesting Johnsen’s withdrawal in March.)
“Dawn Johnsen’s pro-abortion agenda is a stark contrast to your stated intention to find common ground on the issue of abortion,” the letter says. “She has condemned virtually every type of regulation of abortion conceived by a legislature, no matter how mild the regulation or how shocking the practice regulated, as unacceptable.”
“In a Supreme Court amicus brief that she authored, Ms. Johnsen wrote, ‘While a woman might choose to bear children gladly and voluntarily, statutes that curtail her abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest," reads the letter.
Johnsen also wrote in the brief that “abortion restrictions ‘reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers,’” according to Rep. King’s letter.
“The Office of Legal Counsel needs a leader that will respect the Constitution and resist the temptation to substitute personal ideology for sound legal reasoning,” the letter states.
Liberal groups, however, are praising the president’s re-nomination.
“By virtue of her outstanding legal abilities and experience, impeccable judgment, thoughtfulness, and dedication to the rule of law, Dawn Johnsen is exceptionally well-qualified to lead the Office of Legal Counsel,” Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement issued on Thursday. “It is unconscionable that such a superbly qualified nominee was blocked for over nine months.”
In April, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) backed Johnson’s nomination.
“SALT applauds President Obama’s decision to nominate Professor Johnsen, especially in light of her outspoken criticism of the secret memos OLC staff in the Bush administration wrote that purported to justify and permit the use of torture on detainees held by the United States as suspects in the ‘war on terror,’” a statement from the group said.
The one Democrat who has expressed opposition to Johnsen because of her pro-abortion stance, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), told reporters on Wednesday that he did not think the Senate would take up Johnsen’s nomination this year.
Curt Levey, executive director for the constitutional advocacy group Committee for Justice, said in a statement that Scott Brown’s election to the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat might also play a role in the nomination process.
“Scott Brown’s election means her nomination is now likely dead in the water,” Levey said.