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Committee approves some Indiana nominees

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More than a year since she was first nominated to head the Office of Legal Counsel, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this morning approved Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen along party lines for the second time. Two of the three Indiana judicial nominees for the federal bench also received the green light this morning. Johnsen and the judicial nominees can now be voted on by the full Senate.

The committee approved Jon DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana and Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt for the Southern District of Indiana by voice vote without any discussion. But ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he wants to meet with U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson. He received a response late Wednesday night to some questions on various issues he posed to Judge Magnus-Stinson and he wanted to follow up with her on those answers before he voted, according to Sessions' press office. Her judicial nomination for the Southern District is held over until at least the next meeting, which could take place as early as next week.

The trio of judicial nominees had appeared before the committee for questioning in early February, following their nominations a month earlier.

Johnsen, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington and acting assistant attorney general in the OLC during the Clinton Administration, was first chosen by President Barack Obama in February 2009. The committee approved her nomination along party lines March 19, 2009, but because the Senate hadn't voted for her by the end of last year, the nomination expired. The president re-nominated her in January.

With Republicans voicing strong opposition to her selection, members voted 12-7 to allow the full Senate to consider her for the job. Members of both political parties went back and forth voicing support and opposition to Johnsen's nomination, which included her positions on terrorism, executive power, and abortion issues.

Sessions strongly objected to her nomination, saying that she was someone who during the 1990s created issues that should be a concern now as the country confronts wars on terrorism. He noted how Johnsen, as part of the DOJ during the 1990s, "frustrated" President Bill Clinton's efforts to hunt down and assassinate Osama Bin Laden, and as a result the terrorists were able to later carry out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Committee Chair Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., countered Sessions' remarks, saying that Republicans were being hypocritical in that criticism. He noted how the former president had fired missiles into a camp during the 1990s where Bin Laden had been known to be residing, and Republicans criticized him for trying to distract everyone from impeachment proceedings which were going on at the time.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also remarked on Johnsen's frank and honest answers when the committee questioned her Feb. 25, 2009, about her views on torture and the role of the OLC. Feinstein added her answers were "entirely appropriate" to the position she has been nominated for.

Leahy and others on the committee also remarked that Johnsen at least deserved a vote after waiting as long as she has, which was uncharacteristic of others who'd been nominated for the position in the past.

"In the more than nine months her nomination was pending on the Senate's Executive Calendar, Republican senators refused to agree to debate and vote on the nomination," Leahy said of the full Senate.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested the vote didn't happen in the full Senate last year because there wasn't enough support from the Democrats and they wanted to make it look like the Republicans were holding it up.

Johnsen has been a controversial nominee from the start due to her open opposition to actions of the OLC under the George W. Bush Administration, including "Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel," written with nearly 20 other past OLC attorneys. She has also received opposition from pro-life organizations for her work with NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993.

A spokesman for I.U. Maurer School of Law - Bloomington said today the school would not comment on Johnsen's nomination until after she was voted on by the full Senate. Indiana Lawyer reported on the Johnsen nomination in-depth in the Jan. 20 - Feb. 2, 2010, issue, "Nomination Revitalized."

Reporter Michael W. Hoskins contributed reporting to this story.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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