In her first public speech since President Obama nominated her to head up the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel--and Republican opposition prompted her to withdraw 18 months later–Dawn Johnsen came out swinging. Sort of. While she didn’t specifically bash the Republicans who held up her nomination, Johnsen told attendees of the American Constitution Society convention Thursday night, “I do feel that the nearly unprecedented delay of my nomination was wrong.” She called on Obama to fill the vacant post at OLC, a job that has not been occupied by a confirmed candidate for six long years.
Johnsen, who had been an outspoken critic of the Bush-era OLC because of its now-discredited legal memos supporting torture, said that the worst part of being in nominee purgatory was the “forced silence” imposed on her. A prolific writer and blogger, Johnsen said that one of the greatest costs of her nomination was being unable to speak publicly in any form, “not even any boring law review articles that nobody ever reads.” There was one upside to the nomination process, though. While the scrutiny of every word she’d ever written for 25 years was a bit oppressive, Johnsen said found the public review of her career somewhat satisfying because she realized how lucky she had been. “I’ve had countless opportunities to work with committed lawyers on issues on which we care deeply. In the end, none of us can hope for more,” she said.
She said she had no regrets about having spoken out publicly about issues ranging from abortion to torture, noting that when she and her friends were in law school, “the one thing you didn’t want people to say at your funeral is that she went to her grave with her options open.” Johnsen said that standing on principle had helped, not hurt her career, and she urged the law students in attendance not to shy away from doing the same for fear it would hurt their career prospects. “We are counting on you to stand on principle and to speak out loudly and with conviction. Our bright future depends on it,” Johnsen said.
UPDATE: ACS just posted the video of Johnsen’s speech. You can watch it here.