Today's New York Times reports that Barack Obama will appoint an Indiana University law professor named Dawn Johnsen as the head of the White House's Office of Legal Counsel. This is great news because Johnsen, the Times reports, has been an outspoken critic of the power grabs the Bush administration has made over the past eight years. The issue of executive overreach got some but not a lot of play during the campaign (perhaps most notably when Joe Biden lashed Dick Cheney).
So, we should cheer Johnsen's appointment—and then watch the White House closely.
From the Times:
Bradford Berenson, who worked as a lawyer in the White House counsel's office early in the Bush administration, said that under Ms. Johnsen, "the changes may be more marginal than the most rabid partisans might hope for."
"Whatever her academic views, inevitably when you're wielding government authority and you're forced to function in the system, your views get tempered and moderated," he said.
Keep in mind that it is a rare president or administration that consciously rolls back presidential power. We may well find, as Berenson suggests, that seen from inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Bush administration's kooky legal theories seem a lot more attractive.
Let's hope not.