As the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Indiana University Law Professor Dawn Johnsen’s duties will include providing legal advice directly to the President-Elect. If she’s confirmed by the United States Senate, Johnsen will advise Obama what the law says he can and cannot do, as head of the executive branch.
Indiana University Law Professor Jeanine Bell – Johnsen’s colleague – says she will have a heavy load of responsibilities.
“Executive power concerns the relationship between the executive branch and other branches of government. Meaning whether the president has the authority to legally engage in particular actions,” Bell said.
Johnsen isn’t allowed to speak to the media before her confirmation hearings.
“She is absolutely a leader in the area of executive power. She has also written extensively on torture as well,” Bell said.
During the Bush administration, the Office of Legal Counsel suggested legal defenses for counter-terrorism practices defined by some as torture. Johnsen has written skeptically about some of those policies and has been recognized for her knowledge in the field.
Before her nomination Monday, Johnsen provided legal advice to the Obama campaign and had been working on the Democrat’s transition team. Bell says Johnsen has told her she’s excited to join Obama’s administration and move to Washington, D-C. But Bell says if Johnsen is confirmed, she won’t necessarily leave I-U.
“She’d serve for a period of time and take a leave of absence. So not a permanent leave. My sense is that she’d have to be in Washington, most definitely,” she said. “You can’t have a position like this and remain in Bloomington.”
Previously, Johnsen held positions in the Department of Justice during President Bill Clinton’s administration. She would serve under attorney general nominee Eric Holder if both are confirmed. Confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee begin January 15th.