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February 26, 2009

GOP v. Dawn Johnsen

Slate has this entertaining account of Dawn Johnsen's confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The hearing featured the usual jocularity over who went to what law school. Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana talked up his home state law school, where Johnsen now teaches, and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania brought up, as he often does, dear old Yale Law School, from which both he and Johnsen graduated.

Republican senators made clear their dissatisfaction with Johnsen as the next head of the Office of Legal Counsel; or, at the least, they wanted to rough her up a bit. Sometimes, this was done by remote control. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, for instance, declared at the hearing's start that he had "some very serious concerns about this nomination," but then he had another meeting to go to. But rest assured, he had good, tough questions to submit in writing.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, though he made a point of indicating that he shared Johnsen's emphatically pro-choice views, added that "in your writings, you go pretty far to one end of the political spectrum, the positions you've taken on pro-choice." But when pressed about a line she had once written, seemingly striking an analogy between slavery and government restrictions of abortion, Johnsen was able to plead the "that was a long time ago and besides it was only a passing footnote defense."

Said Johnsen:

"I did write that brief 20 years ago. And footnote 23, I found -- makes a suggestion that there may be an analogy between -- not with this article -- that said pregnancy, which I've been blessed with twice and have two wonderful sons, but forced childbirth? This is a brief that I filed arguing that the right to privacy protects the right of women and their families to make these choices, and that Roe v. Wade should be upheld...And I will say, categorically, I do not believe the Thirteenth Amendment is relevant at all."

In truth, the Republicans didn't lay a glove on her.


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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