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Professor faces Senate Judiciary Committee

February 26, 2009

Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington professor Dawn Johnsen faced the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday as part of the nomination process to become the next assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, the office that advises the president on legal matters.

Johnsen, who was introduced by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, faced the senators along with David S. Kris, nominated to be assistant attorney general in the National Security Division.

Among the questions asked was how Johnsen's experience as acting assistant attorney general and as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1993 to 1998 would apply now. Johnsen and the senators referenced "Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel," written by Johnsen with the help of 19 former Office of Legal Counsel attorneys in late 2004 to reflect on the office's nonpartisan role.

While the Democrat senators who questioned Johnsen openly agreed with her political views, they were concerned that instead of serving as a neutral advisor to President Barack Obama, her opinions would lead to advice from the office to serve a particular, left-leaning agenda. Johnsen has written a number of academic papers criticizing the Bush Administration and was legal director of NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988-1993.

Johnsen said her job would be strictly to uphold the rule of law.

The senators also asked her about her thoughts on confidential orders by the Office of Legal Counsel, including those issued during the Bush Administration.

Johnsen said the issue of transparency between the Office of Legal Counsel and Congress was a top priority for her, adding that if there were any conflicts between the office's interpretation of the law and Congress' interpretation of the law, she would prefer the two would come to an understanding before the Office of Legal Counsel would make a decision.

At the end of the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said the record typically remains open for a week to accept further questions in writing. If Johnsen gets an affirmative vote from the committee, her nomination will move to the full Senate for a vote.

The two-hour hearing is available as a webcast using Real Player. Johnsen's completed questionnaire, letters of recommendation, and published works are also available on the committee's Web site.

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