Support for the Nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the Position of Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel

Media 02.24.09

Recipient: Senate Judiciary Committee

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Arlen Specter, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, and the undersigned organizations, we write to express our strong support for the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the position of Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Department of Justice.

The Office of Legal Counsel is of great importance to the civil and human rights community, as it frequently advises the White House and the federal agencies on a number of issues that directly affect the communities we represent. In recent years, for example, it has weighed in on important matters such as voting rights and congressional representation, criminal justice, immigration benefits and enforcement, religious discrimination, and torture. In addition, the OLC’s opinions on matters such as executive privilege or Presidential appointments can also set important, even if more indirect, precedents that ultimately affect the missions of our organizations.

As such, we have a stake in ensuring that the OLC is run by highly-capable individuals who have demonstrated a strong commitment to the rule of law. We believe that Professor Johnsen’s extensive prior experience in the Office of Legal Counsel, as well as her tenure as a constitutional law professor, makes her exceptionally qualified to lead this office.

Professor Johnsen’s experience and preparation for this job are unparalleled. She served as deputy assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel from 1993 to 1996 and was named acting assistant attorney general from 1997 to 1998 – giving her a very strong familiarity with the office and its mission that will ensure a fast start after she is confirmed. Following her years with the OLC, Professor Johnsen joined the faculty of the Indiana University School of Law—Bloomington, where she teaches and writes about constitutional law – an experience that has further honed her research capabilities and her ability to listen to and weigh all sides of challenging issues, which will help to better ensure that she makes sound legal decisions.

In addition, since leaving the OLC, Professor Johnsen has remained a fierce advocate for protecting the integrity of the Office of Legal Counsel and has written extensively on this subject – including articles on the dangers of ideologically-driven decisions at the OLC and on the Bush administration’s abuses of power. In 2004, she organized nineteen former OLC attorneys to jointly create a statement of principles for the OLC, which received praise from Republicans and Democrats alike. In addition, she helped craft legislation to bring greater transparency and integrity to the OLC. Professor Johnsen’s continued concern for the office further demonstrates not only her long-term commitment to the OLC but also her exceptional qualifications for leading it now.

In an era where the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel often flouted legal constraints in an effort to advance its policies, Dawn Johnsen’s nomination as the executive branch’s top legal advisor is a sure sign that the Department of Justice will, once again, ensure adherence to the rule of law. Professor Johnsen’s extensive experience in the office and her long-standing commitment to its integrity makes her well-qualified for the post.

For these reasons, we urge you to support Dawn Johnsen as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please contact Rob Randhava, LCCR Counsel, at 202-466-6058, or Nancy Zirkin, LCCR Executive Vice President, at 202-263-2880.


Alliance for Justice
Asian American Justice Center
Campaign for America’s Future
Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights
Human Rights Campaign
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Abortion Federation
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Health Law Program
National Organization for Women (NOW)
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Senior Citizens Law Center
National Women’s Law Center
People For the American Way