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Debbie O'Leary
IU School of Law--Bloomington

Last modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

IU law professor testifies in Mukasey confirmation hearings

Dawn Johnsen

Dawn Johnsen

"In short, OLC has to be prepared to tell the president 'no,'" she said.

Johnsen, a professor at the IU School of Law-Bloomington, served in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1993 to 1998 and headed the office, as acting assistant attorney general, from 1997 to 1998. She testified Oct. 17 as part of a panel of experts for the Senate confirmation hearings on Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey.

Under the Bush administration, Johnsen said, the work of the OLC has been "dangerously compromised," with the office not following its traditional role of helping the president understand and abide by the law. "Instead, under the guise of legal interpretation, OLC has served as a facilitator of policies that do not comply with applicable legal constraints," she said.

Johnsen focused her testimony on detainee interrogation methods, including the 2002 "Torture Memo" in which the OLC advised the White House on the meaning of a federal law that makes torture a crime. Largely in response to the memo, Johnsen said, she and 18 other former OLC lawyers produced in 2004 a set of 10 principles to guide the OLC and the attorney general in advising the president.

Johnsen told the committee that the next attorney general should undertake a comprehensive review of the work of the OLC, rescinding flawed opinions, publicizing opinions that will not endanger national security and restoring the "integrity and traditional role" of the office.

"Congress should respond to OLC's failures by demanding public accountability and a restoration of the Department of Justice's tradition of independent legal analysis and respect for the rule of law," she said.

As an attorney in the OLC, Johnsen advised the president, the attorney general and the general counsels throughout the executive branch on questions of law. Her research includes separation of powers and, especially, presidential power. She teaches Constitutional Law, the First Amendment, and seminars on Congress, the President and the Courts, and Sexuality, Reproduction and the Constitution.

Johnsen can be reached at 812-856-4984 or