"Severe" Criticism of Dawn Johnsen From Conservative Blogs

More slant from legal reporter Neil Lewis, who has little sympathy for conservative arguments.

Liberal legal reporter Neil Lewis struck again in Wednesday's "Political Memo," "In Senate Judiciary Wars, G.O.P. Struggles With Role." Interestingly, the online headline carried the almost opposite thrust, suggesting it's the Democrats on the defensive: "Storm Clouds Gather Over Obama Nominees."

Lewis's slanted stories show he has little use for conservative judiciary philosophy, and he showed no sympathy Wednesday to the Senate Republicans opposing two of Obama's judicial candidates.

One nominee is Judge David Hamilton, nominated for a seat on a federal appeals court. Hamilton, a fundraiser for ACORN and former ACLU board member, was ludicrously termed a "moderate" by Lewis.

The other is Dawn Johnsen, a controversial pick nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Lewis focused on Republican "attacks" on Johnsen, under fire for equating pregnancy with slavery while a lawyer for the National Abortion Rights Action League, suggesting GOP attacks on her record were overblown or irrelevant:

Lewis wrote:

Although the parties have changed places, the nomination wars continue.

Senate Republicans are struggling to adapt to an altered political world when it comes to candidates for federal courts and senior Justice Department posts.


But so far, facing a solid Democratic majority in the Senate, they have been able to do little beyond briefly delaying confirmation. Now they are weighing whether to use the filibuster - a threat of extended debate, the tool many Republican senators regularly denounced when it was used by Democrats to block some Republican nominees. These are certainly different times.

While Lewis quickly accused the Republicans of filibuster hypocrisy, he left unmentioned the Times' own unembarrassed editorial hypocrisy on the filibuster of judicial nominees. The paper officially deplored the tactic in 1995 when used by congressional Republicans against Bill Clinton, approved of it in 2005 when used by Democrats against George Bush in 2005, and hate it again when its used is threatened by Republicans in 2009.

Lewis focused on Republican "attacks" on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, under fire for equating pregnancy with slavery while a lawyer for the National Abortion Rights Action League, suggesting the complaints were overblown or irrelevant:

But the attacks on the nomination of Ms. Johnsen, who is married to Judge Hamilton's brother, have been more severe. Ms. Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, was an unsparing critic of memorandums, written by lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush administration, that said the president could largely ignore international treaties and Congress in fighting terrorists and that critics have portrayed as allowing torture in interrogation.

The broad reading of presidential authority was "outlandish," and the constitutional arguments were "shockingly flawed," Ms. Johnsen has written. While her language was harsh, the memos have largely been withdrawn, and among lawyers a consensus agreeing with her views has emerged.

Nonetheless, Republicans have denounced her comments. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the committee's minority, said Ms. Johnsen lacked the "requisite seriousness" to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

After letting a Democrat senator accuse Republicans of hypocrisy in acerbic terms, Lewis painted Johnsen's opponents as ideological:

Ms. Johnsen was also criticized, initially by conservative commentators, for a footnote in a brief she filed 20 years ago when she was a lawyer with the National Abortion Rights Action League. The footnote said forcing a woman to bear a child when she had no desire to do so was "disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude."

Conservative blogs asserted that she had equated pregnancy with slavery, and the argument was taken up by Republicans at her confirmation hearing on Feb. 25. Mr. Specter suggested that she had said abortion rights should be protected by the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Ms. Johnsen replied that the footnote had made a suggestion of an analogy and that it had mentioned the amendment, but that she had never "believed the 13th Amendment had any role" in the abortion issue.