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Dawn Johnsen nomination moves to full Senate vote

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary committee voted 11-7 on the nomination of Dawn E. Johnsen to serve as Assistant Attorney General leading the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.  Johnsen would be the first woman to lead the OLC.  The web cast of the committee debate and roll call can be found here (discussion begins at minute 10:36).

The committee’s vote split along party lines and a lengthy and contentious floor debate is expected over her nomination.  Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University at Bloomington, has served as legal counsel for NARAL, a pro-choice reproductive rights political group. She has strongly criticized the Bush administration’s OLC legal memorandums and positions on executive power. During her nomination hearing, she explicitly called waterboarding a method of torture when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The committee questionnaire and letters received regarding Johnsen’s nomination can be found here.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was the only committee member to not vote, reasoning that he wanted to meet with Johnsen to discuss her positions in more detail. He expressed particular concern over her brief in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) and her position on abortion litigation.

There are 11 Assistant Attorney General positions filled by executive nomination. The OLC will play a vital role in crafting the Obama administration’s legal positions on the Guantanamo Bay detainees and detention power.