Confirmation Hopes Fading for Dawn Johnsen, Radical Pro-Abort Obama Pick

After one year of waiting, Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s radical pro-abortion nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), has seen her chances for Senate confirmation delayed once again. The Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Thursday that they had run out of time to consider her selection and agreed to postpone a vote to a later date.

In fact, the sun may be setting altogether on Johnsen’s confirmation hopes, as Senate Republicans have expressed their opposition, and the seating of Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown brings the word “filibuster” back into the GOP lexicon.

The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed the vote to next Thursday citing time constraints, and moved Johnsen’s nomination to the top of the agenda for when they reconvene.

Johnsen’s nomination moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2009, but the Senate failed to act on her nomination before concluding its session on December 24. Obama again nominated Johnsen to head the OLC on January 20, 2010.

But delay gives more time for pro-life advocates to rally political pressure on senators to oppose the nomination through filibuster. The arrival of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to the Senate may be the 41st vote that Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska need to keep her confirmation at bay. Brown describes himself as moderately “pro-choice,” while Johnsen has embraced legal opinions that put her on the extreme edge even of the abortion movement.

Sen. Nelson predicted that “Dawn Johnsen’s controversial nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel won’t come up this year” according to Roll Call, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), normally a reliable pro-life vote in the Senate, appears to be supporting Johnsen in large part because she comes from his State of Indiana, where she teaches at the Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), also normally a reliable pro-life vote in the Senate, took a similar position when he actively championed the confirmation of radical pro-abortion Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to the Department of Health and Human Services, since she was from his home state of Kansas.

The weakest links in a GOP-filibuster would be the two liberal senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who have voted in the past to end cloture and move nominations forward. However, amicable relations between the “pro-choice” Senators and President Obama may have soured over the health care fight, and his pick for the OLC may be even too extreme for them to stomach.

Johnsen once suggested in an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that pro-life laws compel women to “involuntary servitude” and anything less than unrestricted abortion on demand would be a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution, which outlawed slavery. Johnsen made that comment in footnote 23 of the brief she filed in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989) (No. 88-605).

Elsewhere Obama’s nominee stated that even modest abortion restrictions “reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers.”

Johnsen also described the idea of making abortion rare – not just “safe” and “legal” – as “nonsensical.”

She also accused pro-life activists of resorting to tactics not unlike the “intimidation carried out by the Ku Klux Klan” and excoriated fellow pro-abortion leaders for portraying “abortions as tragedies.”

In a brief written on behalf of the American Constitution Society last year, Johnsen advocated that social progressives circumvent the legislative process in favor of judicial activism, stating that “the progressive agenda should focus on the courts as the vehicles for desired change.”

Among the most extreme cases of Johnsen’s legal advocacy for abortion involved her crusade to strip the U.S. Catholic Church of tax-exempt status over its pro-life activism. United States Catholic Conference v. Abortion Rights Mobilization went to the Supreme Court, where the Catholic bishops won their case. However the National Abortion Rights Action League – later redubbed NARAL Pro-Choice America – rewarded Johnsen for her efforts by hiring her to be their legal director, a position she filled from 1989 – 1993.

Johnsen also served as staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project from 1987-1988. She also served in President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department from 1993-1998, including a stint as Acting Assistant Attorney General leading the OLC.

Members of Congress are rallying opposition against Johnsen, citing her extreme abortion positions. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus told (LSN) that “Johnsen is a radically pro-abortion nominee with a record that demonstrates a cruel bias and an insidious discrimination against babies” – a record he said disqualified her for the post.

In a second letter submitted to President Obama on his own behalf and that of 62 fellow Congressmen, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) demanded that President Obama withdraw Johnsen’s nomination stating that her nomination violated Obama’s pledge to find “common ground” on the issue of abortion. “She has condemned virtually every type of regulation of abortion conceived by a legislature, no matter how mild the regulation or how shocking the practice regulated, as unacceptable,” the letter stated.

“Ms. Johnsen’s record demonstrates that she is incapable of placing the Rule of Law above her political philosophy or personal agenda. The Office of Legal Counsel needs a leader that will respect the Constitution and resist the temptation to substitute personal ideology for sound legal reasoning.”

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage