News Articles

Land urges defeat of Johnsen nomination

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist public policy specialist Richard Land has strongly urged U.S. Senate committee leaders to reject confirmation of a controversial nominee to a top Justice Department position.

In a Feb. 4 letter, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) appealed to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, and Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala., the panel’s ranking member, to oppose approval of Dawn Johnsen as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

Pro-life and conservative organizations have opposed her nomination to the post since it was first announced last year. Johnsen, 48, has advocated for abortion rights, serving for five years as legal director of one of the country’s leading pro-choice organizations, and has sharply criticized anti-terrorism policies in force during the Bush administration.

The Judiciary Committee forwarded her nomination last March to the full Senate, but a confirmation vote never occurred in 2009. President Obama renominated her in January.

The committee was scheduled to vote on Johnsen during a business meeting Feb. 4, but consideration of other nominees resulted in her nomination being held over until the next meeting. The panel’s next business meeting is scheduled for Feb. 11.

Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, served as legal director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now known as NARAL Pro-choice America, from 1988-93. Previously, Johnsen served with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. From 1993-98, she worked at the Justice Department during President Clinton’s administration.

Speaking on behalf of the ERLC, Land said Johnsen’s “radical remarks” have included the defaming of “mothers, pregnancy, and the unborn.”

In a legal brief she filed while at NARAL, Johnsen “compared pregnancy with slavery, declaring that abortion restrictions are ‘disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment,'” Land wrote. “She has also called pregnant women mere ‘fetal containers’ and dismissed efforts to reduce the number of abortions as ‘nonsensical.'”

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude.”

Regarding her criticism of previous anti-terrorism policies, Land told Leahy and Sessions, “Her reckless disparagement of national security decisions gives us great pause. Because of such disturbing statements, we believe she lacks credibility to head such an important office which crafts essential legal and counterterrorism policy.”

Directing the Office of Legal Counsel “requires someone who will rise above personal ideology and instead offer counsel based on the rule of law,” Land said. “We do not believe Dawn Johnsen is that person.”

The Office of Legal Counsel, according to the Justice Department website, helps the attorney general give “legal advice to the President and the heads of the executive and military departments.” It also provides “legal advice and assistance to other components” of the department when requested.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.