Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Storm Clouds Gather Over Obama Nominees

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.

No longer able simply to defend choices made by a fellow Republican, as they did under President George W. Bush, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have turned into vocal critics of many of President Obama’s legal nominees. They complain that several are committed liberal ideologues, much in the way Democrats complained that Mr. Bush’s choices were committed conservative ideologues.

Same old game, but there's a new sheriff in town.

The current Republican focus is on a pair of nominees: Mr. Obama’s first selection for a federal appeals court seat, David F. Hamilton, and his choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, Dawn Johnsen. (By coincidence, the two are in-laws.)

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, has complained that the Democrats are moving too quickly to consider Mr. Hamilton, a federal trial judge in Indiana since 1994. The committee has set for Wednesday the confirmation hearing on Judge Hamilton, who was nominated only in mid-March.

Specter is a slime. He tries to play the center, and sometimes does (he voted for the stimulus bill), but he often moves right and lobs grenades.

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.

It is incomprehensible that a lawyer would wrote an opinion stating that the president can ignore treaties and Congress.

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 While her language was harsh, the memos have largely been withdrawn, and among lawyers a consensus agreeing with her views has emerged.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.

Cornyn makes Specter seem a statesman.

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