Old Home Week at the Department of Justice

Barack Obama made four key nominations for senior Justice Department posts yesterday. They are Elena Kagan (Solicitor General), David Ogden (Deputy Attorney General), Thomas Perrelli (head of the Civil Division), and Dawn Johnsen (Head of the Office of Legal Counsel). Perrelli, Ogden, and Johnsen all were high ranking officials in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, as was Eric Holder, Obama’s controversial choice for Attorney General.

Kagan is the Dean of Harvard Law School. She has received praise from conservatives like Ted Olson for her efforts to make the Harvard law faculty more ideologically diverse. She also stood up to what the Washington Post calls “faculty unease” over the hiring of Jack Goldsmith, who had served for a time as head of the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. Barring the unexpected, Kagan will easily be confirmed. And if her stint as SG is perceived as successful, a Supreme Court nomination could be in her future.

The selection of Dawn Johnsen, by contrast, is problematic. Johnsen, now a law professor at Indiana University, has been a particularly shrill critic of the Justice Department’s positions on legal issues pertaining to the war on terror. Last year, for example, she testified before Congress that the administration’s legal interpretations were “tainted by the administration’s desired policy ends and overriding objective of expanding presidential power.”

The administration’s legal interpretations stand or fall on their merit. In attacking them by imputing improper motives to their authors, Johnsen reveals herself as injudicious and unprofessional. Such qualities are not what one hopes for in the head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

Perhaps Johnsen hoped that by taking her shrill approach she would stand out in the mind of the next Democratic president. If so, she appears to have been correct.

The selection of Johnsen (along with all the other DOJ Clintonistas) suggests that the Obama administration may return to the bad old days of the Clinton-Reno Justice Department. In that era, DOJ erected silly walls (since removed) that impeded intelligence gathering regarding terrorism. It also nixed military action that targeted Osama bin Laden personally. Johnsen may still be uncomfortable about such action, having complained (according to the Washington Post) that the Bush administration’s “counter-terrorism actions. . .threaten. . .even the physical safety of those targeted.”

Johnsen is also the former legal director of NARAL, the pro-abortion outfit. That fact will add spice to her confirmation hearing.

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