Dispatches from the Creation Wars

My colleague Daphne Eviatar reports that Sen. Arlen Specter is reconsidering his position on Dawn Johnsen, nominated by Obama to be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the DOJ. Specter started out as an opponent of her nomination before he switched parties and has not changed his position as a Democrat.

Earlier this year when Arlen Specter was still a Republican, the Pennsylvania senator was among the harshest critics of Dawn Johnsen, the Indiana University law professor who is President Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.


The reasons were absurd:

Among them was Specter, who, during her confirmation hearing in February, took the lead in painting her as a radical left-wing ideologue. In April, even after switching parties, he reaffirmed that he was still opposed to her nomination. As a result of the staunch opposition of Specter, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and most Republicans, the Office of Legal Counsel has gone without a confirmed leader to advise the president on critical legal issues, such as the use of warrantless wiretapping and the treatment and trials of suspected terrorists and “war on terror” detainees…

As I pointed out during Johnsen’s confirmation hearing, Specter grilled her on a footnote buried in a friend-of-the-court brief she’d co-authored with 10 other lawyers representing 77 different public interest organizations, 20 years ago in an abortion rights case when she was a lawyer for the National Abortion Rights Action League. The footnote said that laws curtailing the right to an abortion “are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the 13th Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires [a woman] to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest.”

“When I read in your writings that abortion bans are a violation of the 13th Amendment ban on slavery,” Specter chastised Johnsen at her confirmation hearing, “that seems to me candidly beyond the pale.”

This is ridiculous nitpicking and it isn’t relevant to her job at all. Her job will be to give advice to the president on the constitutional limits of his own power. We’ve already seen from the debacle of the Bush administration how important that job is. And abortion is almost certain not to come up.

Dawn Johnsen is the ideal choice to lead the OLC. She will fight to keep the executive branch within its constitutional limits, something this administration needs nearly as badly as the last one did. The Senate needs to confirm her, immediately.