Law professor ends 15-month nomination battle

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On a historic day when a longtime U.S. Supreme Court justice announced his retirement and an Indianapolis judge marked his investiture to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, an Indiana law professor withdrew her name from consideration for a post with the Department of Justice.

On Friday, Dawn Johnsen, constitutional law professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington, withdrew her long-stalled nomination to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. She cited political delays, saying the move was made in order to protect the fundamental duty the legal office fulfills.

"Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration," she said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly."

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a statement that praised Johnsen's credentials and past service but said it was "clear that Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed." The president is now working to identify a replacement who can provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch, with hopes the U.S. Senate will move beyond politics to swiftly confirm that nominee.

Johnsen plans to continue teaching courses on constitutional law, presidential power, and reproductive rights, as she's done on a full-time basis during the 15-month long nomination process.

Dean Lauren Robel said the withdrawal is disappointing not only for Johnsen but also for the entire law school.

"Professor Johnsen's credentials and her demonstrated commitment to the rule of law make her eminently qualified to the lead the OLC, and it is unfortunate for the country that she will not have the opportunity to do so," Robel wrote in a statement. "I applaud Dawn for the integrity she has shown by putting the importance of an Office of Legal Counsel that can operate at full strength, free from a lengthy and difficult confirmation process, ahead of her own interests."

Marge Baker, who attended the March 4 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, is executive vice president of People for the American Way, a progressive organization based in Washington, D.C. Baker told Indiana Lawyer today that she found the news to be disappointing, as well as why Johnsen likely withdrew her name.

"I think it's a profound loss to the nation. I think she'd serve the country extremely well as she did before. ... She had a strong support from Democrats when she was taken up again in committee. I thought they made an extremely powerful case for her," Baker said.

"What happened here was the other side was permitted to characterize her as controversial for views that are very mainstream. She was pilloried for her strong and cogent and mainstream views that torture was illegal, and was castigated for the fact she was pro-choice, which is a very mainstream position. ... Hopefully next time around the administration will not permit their nominee to get labeled by the other side as controversial when they're not."

Johnsen's name came up only briefly during the investiture ceremony of her brother-in-law, 7th Circuit Judge David Hamilton. The judge's wife alluded to Johnsen in her remarks, and Judge Hamilton said during his remarks that Johnsen deserved the nomination to the OLC. Johnsen did not attend the ceremony.

This story will be updated in the April 14-27, 2010, issue of Indiana Lawyer.


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  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  5. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well