HRC Blog

Senate Takes Step Toward Confirmation of HRC Supported Asst. Attorney General Nominee

Today, Dawn Johnsen was favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee as the nominee to become the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Department of Justice.   Johnsen was originally nominated by President Obama in early 2009.  However, after being favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, her nomination sat pending on the Senate’s Executive calendar until it expired in 2010.  The delay of her confirmation became symbolic of the obstructionist environment in the current Senate.  She was re-nominated by the President on January 20, 2010. In April 2009, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), along with other civil rights organizations, joined a letter by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights that expressed strong support for the nomination of Johnsen.  Johnsen served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at OLC from 1993 to 1996 and was named Acting Assistant Attorney General from 1997 to 1998.  Following her years at OLC, she joined the faculty of the Indiana University School of Law—Bloomington, where she teaches and writes about constitutional law. OLC serves as legal adviser to the President and all federal agencies.  The office drafts legal opinions in response to requests from the Attorney General, the Counsel to the President, federal agencies, and offices within the Department of Justice.  OLC decisions are binding on all executive agencies.  Thus, OLC decisions are particularly important because they determine what the president and all his agencies can and cannot legally do.  During the Reagan administration, Ted Olson, as head of OLC, determined that federal civil service law prohibits the federal government from denying employment or terminating anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation.  In the future, OLC decisions could address other issues that impact the LGBT community, such as the scope of the Defense of Marriage Act.

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