The real deal at Justice

THE REAL DEAL AT JUSTICE…. The transition office announced this morning Barack Obama’s choices for some of the top positions in the Justice Department.

Today, President-elect Barack Obama announced that he intends to nominate the following individuals for key posts at the United States Department of Justice: David Ogden, Deputy Attorney General; Elena Kagan, Solicitor General; Tom Perrelli, Associate Attorney General; and Dawn Johnsen, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel.

President-elect Obama said, “These individuals bring the integrity, depth of experience and tenacity that the Department of Justice demands in these uncertain times. I have the fullest confidence that they will ensure that the Department of Justice once again fulfills its highest purpose: to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people.”

The subtle message of Obama’s quote is that the Justice Department has fallen short of fulfilling its highest purpose lately.

Regardless, there’s a lot to like about this team, especially Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan as the Solicitor General, the first woman to earn the position. Ogden and Perrelli are also obviously very qualified for their respective posts.

Dawn Johnsen at the OLC is especially encouraging, and not just because she wrote a great piece for the Washington Monthly in 2002 on Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.

As Tim Fernholz noted, Johnsen has also recently published pieces such as Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power and What’s a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration’s Abuses. “Given that OLC was a hotbed of torture-justifying and illegal-surveillance-allowing during the last administration, it’s nice to see that the new boss has a different set of ideas,” Fernholz added.

Damn straight. Johnsen has specifically blasted the “abuses” and “illegal practices” in the Bush Administration’s torture policy, arguing, “In short, OLC must be prepared to say no to the President…. If the President desires only a rubberstamp, OLC will have to struggle mightily to provide an effective check on unlawful action. In addition to being prepared to say no, therefore, the assistant attorney general for OLC and other top Department of Justice officials must also be prepared to resign in the extraordinary event the President persists in acting unlawfully or demands that OLC legitimize unlawful activity.”

And here’s another great piece Johnsen had in April, responding to the release of John Yoo’s torture memos: “I want to second Dahlia’s frustration with those who don’t see the newly released Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) torture memo as a big deal. Where is the outrage, the public outcry?! The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it — all demand our outrage.”

And now Johnsen is going to head the OLC. This is most definitely change I can believe in.