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Judiciary Approves Controversial Nominee to Head Office of Legal Counsel

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved along party lines the controversial nomination of Dawn Johnsen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel.

Thursday’s 12-7 vote marks the second time the committee has considered Johnsen’s selection. Johnsen’s nomination was the subject of numerous holds last year and never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Based on the past year, we know that if Dawn Johnsen is confirmed to the Office of Legal Counsel, she will be presented with difficult and sensitive questions regarding our handling of captured terrorists,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement before the committee.

Cornyn sought to tie Johnsen’s legal views with those of Attorney General Eric Holder, who Republicans have criticized for his handling of the Christmas Day bomber and his push to try 9/11 suspects in civilian court.

“Because American lives could depend on Dawn Johnsen’s views of the legal questions that have arisen since her last hearing, this Committee should not approve her nomination without a serious discussion of her views on these questions,” Cornyn said.

While Republicans criticized Holder and predicted a tenure of judicial bias at the Office of Legal Counsel under Johnsen’s watch, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) used a recent Department of Justice report critical of Bush administration appointees to make the case that the office needs a leader. He said Johnsen should be swiftly confirmed.

“The American people have seen the mounting evidence that OLC was converted during the Bush administration into apologists for their desired practices rather than the independent source of sound legal advice that it should have been,” Leahy said.

Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor, was renominated to the job by President Barack Obama in January and went before the Judiciary Committee in February 2009 for a hearing. Republicans largely oppose her installment because of her views on abortion and the war on terror.

Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) is the only Republican who supports Johnsen. But because Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) opposes her and because Democrats lack a filibuster-proof majority, her ultimate confirmation is in question.

Still, left-leaning groups celebrated the Judiciary vote Thursday and called for her swift installment.

“Senator Leahy and his colleagues should be applauded for once again moving this nomination forward,” People for the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker said in a statement. “As Senator Leahy urged, after a year of petty political delays Republican Senators should allow a simple up or down vote on this nominee. The country deserves no less.”

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