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President to renominate IU professor

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An Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington professor is expected to be renominated by President Barack Obama to head the Office of Legal Counsel after the Senate sent her nomination back to the White House in December.

While the president first announced he planned to nominate Dawn Johnsen Jan. 5, 2009, he formally nominated her Feb. 11, 2009. She addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 25, 2009, and the committee approved her nomination 11-7 along party lines March 19, 2009. No progress was made since then, and because she wasn't confirmed by the full Senate by the end of the first year of its 2009-2010 session, the Senate sent her nomination back to the White House Dec. 24.

Hannah Buxbaum, executive associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at the school, said she is confident Johnsen will be renominated and has "no reason to doubt the accuracy of those reports."

Requests for comment from the White House and Sen. Evan Bayh's office were not returned by IL Daily deadline.

"We feel she's eminently qualified for the position," Buxbaum said. "She's a leading constitutional law scholar, particularly on the topic of separation of powers and other topics related to the position. More importantly, she already served in the position."

Johnsen worked for the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1998, including one year as acting assistant attorney general, 1997 to 1998. But conservative groups have focused more on her work before her position with the Office of Legal Counsel. Pro-life advocates have been publicly against her because of her position as legal director of NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993. She was also a staff counsel fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project in New York City from 1987 to 1988.

Conservative groups also disagree with her strong positions regarding the Office of Legal Counsel's actions during the administration of President George W. Bush. She, along with 18 others who formerly worked for the office, released the "Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel" Dec. 21, 2004. The first principle stated: "When providing legal advice to guide contemplated executive branch action, OLC should provide an accurate and honest appraisal of applicable law, even if that advice will constrain the administration's pursuit of desired policies. The advocacy model of lawyering, in which lawyers craft merely plausible legal arguments to support their clients' desired actions, inadequately promotes the President's constitutional obligation to ensure the legality of executive action."

Buxbaum said she doesn't expect the nomination process will be immediate this time around and that Johnsen, who taught classes last semester, is scheduled to teach again this semester. Johnsen will commute from her home in Washington, D.C. While Johnsen can't talk about the nomination process while it is pending, Buxbaum said the two recently have been in touch about Johnsen's duties for the law school, and she and others at the law school plan to continue to keep an eye on the nomination process.

"We are delighted to hear the president is planning to renominate her, and we look forward to her confirmation," Buxbaum said.

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