An OLC we can believe in

AN OLC WE CAN BELIEVE IN…. About two weeks ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on “Face the Nation,” and defended the Bush administration’s legal abuses, saying they’d been endorsed by his lawyers.

“In terms of all of our actions,” Cheney said, “we worked to stay close to the Office of Legal Counsel. We followed the guidance we got, which is what you’re supposed to do and where you’re supposed to do it.”

In other words, Cheney got John Yoo to endorse actions that exceeded the law, so it’s all kosher. After all, the OLC is where “you’re supposed” to get this kind of authority.

It’s encouraging, then, to know who’ll be sitting in John Yoo’s office for the foreseeable future.

A Georgetown source forwards over an email from that school’s administration, reporting that Professor Marty Lederman’s class will be canceled — because he’s joining the Obama administration.

Lederman, another former Clinton Office of Legal Counsel lawyer, is perhaps the most prominent of several high-profile opponents of the Bush Administration’s executive power claims joining Obama, a mark that he intends not just to change but to aggressively reverse Bush’s moves on subjects like torture. With hires like Barron, Johnen, and Lederman, Obama is not just going back to Democratic lawyers: These are anti-Bush lawyers.

Damn straight. Lederman has been a leading opponent of Bush’s torture policies, and the legal reasoning behind them. He’s even suggested that the former administration officials committed crimes in this area. Now, thankfully, Lederman is headed to the OLC.

And what an OLC it will be. The Lederman announcement came shortly after David Barron was named Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the OLC. Barron has been a staunch opponent of Bush’s executive-branch power-grabs and war-time legal arguments.

Both Barron and Lederman will, of course, join Dawn Johnsen, who’ll head the OLC, and whose record on these issues is sterling.

A lot of this may seem obscure. Before 2001, OLC was not widely known, and rarely thought about in a political context. But as Hilzoy recently explained, “It tells, for instance, the CIA and the Department of Interior what it judges to be permissible under the laws, and its opinions are binding. Under George W. Bush, the OLC seems to have been used to provide Get Out Of Jail Free cards — opinions that would license whatever Bush and Cheney wanted to do, and provide some cover for people who did those things. That the OLC has that kind of power makes it a very, very important job.”

That Obama has chosen terrific people to fix the OLC is a very encouraging development.