President Obama has now achieved a pay grade that requires him to confront weighty decisions regarding the state of this nation’s legal order, and the protection of human life. Among those decisions will be whether to use the Department of Justice and our courts to advance a legal order that upholds a Culture of Life. The President appears to be signaling his approach through several nominations to the Department of Justice, and one must wonder whether the Culture of Death is at the threshold.
A number of the high-level nominees for Justice, if we view their records as an indicator, stand prepared to implement a legal agenda that would represent a radical departure from this nation’s historic treatment of abortion, euthanasia and gay rights.
President Bush made significant progress on Culture of Life issues by nominating a host of cabinet members and high ranking officials who were committed to protecting this nation’s cultural fabric through legal and administrative policy. Those officials aggressively defended the partial birth abortion ban, opposed physician-assisted suicide, and pushed for pro-life riders including the Hyde Amendment, the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, and the Mexico City Policy. The President’s appointees also crafted the legal framework for banning embryo-destructive stem cell research and for protecting the conscience rights of medical and health care providers such as Catholic hospitals.
In contrast, President Obama has nominated some individuals clearly committed to a very different agenda to top legal posts that have great impact on policy despite their low public profile.
Dawn Johnsen, nominated by Obama to lead the highly influential Office of Legal Counsel, was previously a lawyer for NARAL and the ACLU. As a NARAL lawyer, Johnsen drew what William Saletan described as a "hard line against legislative compromise on parental involvement" in a minor’s decision to abort. Her advice: "Do not, as part of an affirmative legislative strategy, introduce even a liberalized version of a parental consent or notification law."
David Ogden, Obama’s would-be Deputy Attorney General, once argued in a brief in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case that "Abortion rarely causes or exacerbates psychological or emotional problems. When women do experience regret, depression, or guilt, such feelings are mild and diminish rapidly…Those few women who do experience negative psychological responses after abortion appear to be those with preexisting emotional problems." Ogden’s view arguably represents a fringe position that has been disproven by mainstream science and is not even maintained by some of the fiercest pro-abortion advocates. Certainly, judging from what President Obama said on the campaign trail about "reducing abortions," he probably even rejects this view.
Thomas Perrelli, Obama’s Associate Attorney General nominee, is known mostly for his role in defending Terri Schiavo’s husband, wherein he worked alongside prominent euthanasia attorney George Felos and the Florida ACLU to withdraw life-sustaining treatment for Mrs. Schiavo.
President Obama’s nominees to our nation’s most important legal offices could implement a fundamental shift in domestic policy. Conventional wisdom in Washington suggests members of the U.S. Senate are not in the mood to protest, so confirmation is highly likely. And perhaps this is only fitting–there should, after all, be a high level of deference to a President, who, having been elected by the people, seeks to fill the Executive Branch. But whatever one thinks of the Culture of Life, and the deference that a President ultimately should receive, such a dramatic shift in policy should happen only after serious deliberation, and not as a result of inattention. Members of the Senate should ask probative questions of these nominees and demand serious answers so that the American people can continue to play a part in defining the cultural fabric of our nation.