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Profile: Dawn Johnsen
Dawn Johnsen was a participant or observer in the following events:
Several legal experts join the retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and media pundits (see April 4, 2008) who have spoken out against former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s 2003 torture memo (see April 2, 2008). Dawn Johnsen, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, says of Yoo’s memo: “Having 81 pages of legal analysis with its footnotes and respectable-sounding language makes the reader lose sight of what this is all about. He is saying that poking people’s eyes out and pouring acid on them is beyond Congress’s ability to limit a president. It is an unconscionable document.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2008] Former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Martin Lederman, now a law professor at Georgetown University, says the Yoo memo helped create a legal environment that allowed prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. “What else could have been the source of belief in Iraq that the gloves were off and all laws could be disregarded with impunity?” Lederman asks. “It created a world in which everyone on the ground believed the laws did not apply. It was a law-free zone.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Doug Cassell, the director of Notre Dame Law School’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, says: “This newly disclosed memo confirms that John Yoo inflicted his legal theory, that the commander in chief can do anything in wartime, not only on the CIA, but on the Pentagon as well. Yet when the Justice Department revoked the Yoo memos, it expressly declined to address that theory. It is high time for the Justice Department to repudiate Yoo’s pernicious doctrine, once and for all.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 4/2/2008]
Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]
The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. [Daily Beast, 3/26/2009]
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