Nominations Roadblock in the Senate

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

IT HAS BEEN almost six months since President Obama nominated Indiana law professor Dawn E. Johnsen to head the Justice Department's influential Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Almost five months have passed since the Senate Judiciary Committee gave her a favorable vote and sent the nomination to the full Senate.

Yet with just days left before the August recess, there has yet to be a floor vote. This is unconscionable.

Ms. Johnsen is highly qualified for the OLC post: She served for several years as a top assistant in the office during the Clinton administration and has earned the respect of top OLC lawyers who worked for Republican and Democratic presidents. She should be confirmed, but her nomination has been held hostage mainly by Republicans who are using her strong pro-choice views as political fodder. It has not helped matters that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has been less than assertive in pushing for a vote.

Ms. Johnsen is not alone in this state of limbo. Several others nominated for division chief slots at the Justice Department also earned the Judiciary Committee's thumbs-up but not the Senate vote required to take their posts. These include Thomas E. Perez (civil rights), Mary L. Smith (tax), and Christopher Schroeder (Office of Legal Policy). They, too, should be confirmed before the Senate recesses, as should the handful of U.S. attorney nominees who have been voted through by the Judiciary Committee.

The same goes for three nominees to the courts of appeal: David F. Hamilton (7th Circuit); Gerard Lynch (2nd Circuit); and Andre M. Davis (4th Circuit). Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Lynch were unanimously rated well-qualified by the American Bar Association; Mr. Davis earned a well-qualified rating from the majority of ABA reviews and a "qualified" rating from the rest. All three won favorable votes from the Judiciary Committee nearly two months ago.

The American people spoke last November, giving President Obama the right to put in place his own picks for key administration positions. In the absence of disqualifying legal or ethical blotches, the Senate should give the president the people he wants, even if they hold views with which senators disagree.

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