Multiple sources have reported and Sam Stein confirms that Dawn Johnsen, the Indiana University law professor whose bid to run the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department has been delayed for over a year, has just withdrawn her nomination. The White House confirmed this to Stein.
Johnsen has been delayed since early last year, in particular because of her views on abortion causing Ben Nelson to balk at her confirmation, which makes no sense because that would not be any part of her purview at OLC, which essentially is the Supreme Court of the executive branch. Her views on executive power, which pleased civil libertarians, comprised the main objection for Republicans.
It is baffling that the White House would have bothered to re-nominate Johnsen at the end of last year if the outcome would simply be a withdrawal. This raised a lot of hopes that they would actually fight for Johnsen’s nomination on a second pass. Well, they didn’t.
More broadly, with a Supreme Court vacancy, withdrawing Johnsen at this point sends the message that she was ideologically insufficient for confirmation. It’s a pretty obvious signal that the next SCOTUS Justice will not stray into Johnsen territory. I assume the White House did this as some kind of peace offering, but needless to say the right wing doesn’t really get mollified by things like this.
Meanwhile the Justice Department still has nobody at OLC, as hundreds of opinions requiring expert advice pile up.
Sucky Friday news dump.
UPDATE: As Bmaz has documented, Obama had the votes to confirm Johnsen last year, as soon as Arlen Specter switched parties and held a second meeting with Johnsen last May.
Here’s Johnsen’s full statement.
“I am deeply honored that President Obama, the Attorney General and a strong majority of the U.S. Senate have demonstrated faith and confidence in my ability to lead the Office of Legal Counsel,” Johnsen said in a statement asking for the withdrawal. “OLC plays a critical role in upholding the rule of law and must provide advice unvarnished by politics or partisan ambition. That was my guiding principle when I had the privilege to lead OLC in a past administration. Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration. Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly.”