Senate Republicans Stand Up For Torture
April 1, 2009, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Ian | Tags: , ,

dawnDawn Johnsen is one of the most delightful people I know; she’s bright without arrogance and well-informed without condescension.  She is also one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of torture, possessing a piercing sense of the moral stakes at issue when we torture another human being.  Like every lawyer who practices competently in the area, Dawn knows that torture is illegal.  But Dawn’s grasp of the issue goes far beyond her legal understanding, and she has repeatedly called upon the nation to recapture its sense of outrage regarding the Bush Administration’s use of torture.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Senate Republicans want to filibuster her nomination to head up the Office of Legal Counsel.

Like most Americans, Dawn is pro-choice.  She even spent several years litigating in favor of reproductive freedom.  So a number of conservative lawmakers are embarrassing themselves with claims that she is unfit to head OLC because of her views regarding abortion.  House Minority Conference Chair Mike Pence even wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to unnominate her because “Ms. Johnsen has no interest in reducing the number of abortions.”

Make no mistake, however, the claim that Dawn’s views on reproductive health have anything to do with her suitability to head OLC is a red herring.  OLC’s duties have very little to do with abortion; and they will likely have no relation at all to the issue so long as Barack Obama is president.

The purpose of OLC is to give neutral legal advice to the President and other parts of the Executive Branch.  OLC does not (or at least, did not before John Yoo took up residence there) tell the President what he wants to hear.  Rather, OLC’s job is to give straight answers on whether an action the President wants to take is legal, or to resolve legal disputes between two conflicting Executive agencies.

Because OLC’s only job is to advise the Executive on how to comply with the law, it is highly unlikely that a question concerning abortion would come before OLC.  Indeed, the only circumstance I can imagine where such a question would arise is if the President wanted to impose a new federal restriction on reproductive freedom, but wanted to first make sure that the restriction would be constitutional.  So unless Republican lawmakers honestly believe that President Obama plans to implement new policies restricting reproductive freedom, their claims that Dawn’s views on abortion somehow impact her fitness for OLC are in bad faith.

What OLC does do—as we are now unfortunately aware of thanks to John Yoo—is advise the President on sensitive questions regarding the legality of his national security policies.  Dawn will likely plan no role whatsoever in shaping the Administration’s stance on reproductive health, but she will plan a substantial role in determining how intelligence agents and servicemembers can interrogate prisoners, where and how those prisoners can be detained, and how they must be treated.  A vote to filibuster Dawn will do nothing to impact abortion policy, but it could lead to continued harsh treatment of prisoners of war.

So I hope that the lawmakers who are actually considering a filibuster take a deep breath and ask themselves if they really want to be associated anymore with George Bush’s most appalling legacy. The man is no longer in power; his policies are wholly discredited; and he is less popular than venereal disease.  If anyone votes to block Dawn’s nomination, I can only assume it is because they thought Abu Ghraib was a triumph of American achievement.


9 Comments so far
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How about a “recess appointment”?
Abused by Bushco, shove it back in the GOP’s faces.
Who controls when Congress is in “recess”?
I think it’s the Dems.
Do they have the cajones?
Probably not.

Comment by Joel Fox

No need for a recess appointment, yet. Instead, let’s MAKE THEM FILIBUSTER. They don’t have the guts and even if they did, they would only look foolish.

Oh and this may not be necessary in the end, but we should consider making this a gender issue. That’s definitely at play, isn’t it?

Comment by fj

[…] that Dawn Johnsen should not be confirmed to lead OLC because of her pro-choice views, even though her duties at OLC have virtually nothing to do with abortion.  When I wrote that post, I though that the anti-choice attacks on Dawn were in bad faith because […]

Pingback by Anti-Choice Groups Demand Veto Power Over Obama’s Nominees « Overruled

[…] Republican talking points ignore the unique nature of the Office of Legal Counsel.  As I’ve written about before, OLC attorneys are not like other Executive Branch officials because their job is not to advance […]

Pingback by Impeaching Jay Bybee « Overruled

Is that really benefit? A competently lawyer is one who can be successful on whatever position they that take. So she can make misleading and false statements with acumen.

So its torture to terrorists who believe that beheading is a regualar event. Keep it up, the police won’t be able to handcuff, detain or question the guy who mugs you.

Comment by Herseyk

Is that really benefit? A competently lawyer is one who can be successful on whatever position they that take. So she can make misleading and false statements with acumen.

I don’t understand your argument. Are you saying that the Senate shouldn’t confirm Dawn because she is competent? I don’t think too many people will share your view that we must have an incompetent attorney heading OLC.

Comment by Ian

[…] Dawn, on the other hand, has been nominated to give neutral, disinterested legal advice to the President.  The head of OLC serves no policymaking function, and is very unlikely to play any role whatsoever in shaping the Administation’s policy on reproductive fre…. […]

Pingback by It’s Still All About Torture « Overruled

[…] some conservatives claim that Dawn must not be confirmed because she is pro-choice, even though OLC plays virtually no role in setting the Administration’s policy on abortion.  But this makes no sense as an explanation for why two Senators who claim to be pro-choice […]

Pingback by Profiles in Cowardice « Overruled

[…] a floor vote, often citing her pro-choice views for justification even though OLC’s role has little or nothing to do with abortion. Obama nominee Harold Koh, former dean of the Yale Law School and a leading scholar of […]

Pingback by Supreme Hypocrisy

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