Obama Nominee for Office of Legal Counsel Withdraws

Posted April 9, 2010 at 7:12pm

Updated: 8:35 p.m.

Dawn Johnsen, President Barack Obama’s controversial pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel, withdrew her nomination Friday.

“Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration,” Johnsen said in a 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.”

Senate Republicans have staunchly opposed Johnsen, whose nomination has lagged since last year, over her stance on abortion and previous statements about interrogation and the war in Iraq. The Indiana University law professor was one of Obama’s most controversial choices, and her departure Friday comes just at the president begins the process of selecting a second Supreme Court nominee.

”Her credentials are exemplary and her commitment to the rule of law has been proven time and again, but it is now clear that Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Labolt said “the President believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to — to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch.”

Obama “will work now to identify a replacement and call on the Senate to move swiftly to confirm that nominee in order to achieve those goals,” LaBolt added.

Johnsen’s nomination enjoyed the support of Indiana Sens. Dick Lugar (R) and Evan Bayh (D), but some moderate Democrats had concerns with her nomination and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) held firm against her, thus making confirmation nearly impossible.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, blasted Nelson in a statement, also pointing criticism at the slow process of clearing judicial nominees. 

”It is a sad day for our democracy when political obstruction in the U.S. Senate prevents an eminently qualified individual like Prof. Johnsen from serving in a pivotal position at the Department of Justice,” Keenan said. “The American people have grown tired of seeing senators, particularly Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), put their rigid ideological agenda before the common good.”

“It is not surprising that the Democrat-controlled Senate never made an effort to bring her nomination to a vote on the floor,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in a statement. “Had they done so, the nomination certainly would have faced bipartisan opposition.”