Image: David Ogden, deputy attorney general nominee.
Linda Spillers  /  AP
David Ogden, Obama's pick for deputy attorney general, is among one of the president's top choices being challenged.
updated 2/5/2009 10:32:51 AM ET 2009-02-05T15:32:51

Republican senators challenged President Barack Obama's pick for the No. 2 position at the Justice Department, echoing concerns raised by Christian conservatives about his past legal arguments on pornography and abortion.

David Ogden, nominated to be the deputy attorney general, was questioned at length about those issues at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Christian conservatives are challenging Ogden and others Obama has nominated for top positions at the Justice Department, contending that their past positions taint their resumes.

Republicans voiced similar concerns.

"You've taken some very extraordinary positions, some left-leaning and unorthodox positions," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. told Ogden, citing the lawyer's past work opposing some anti-pornography statutes and mandatory parental notification for teenage girls getting abortions.

Despite the pointed questions, Ogden is expected to be confirmed.

Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday and started work the next day. As he awaits confirmation of his top aides, many on the religious right are questioning the nominees' backgrounds, saying they have promoted far left, pro-abortion, pro-gay policies.

Ogden sought to reassure the lawmakers that he would prosecute child pornographers aggressively, and he urged the lawmakers not to judge him by arguments he made on behalf of his past clients.

"Child pornography is abhorrent," Ogden said, adding later, "Issues of children and families have always been of great importance to me."

Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., asked Ogden about the disparity in prison sentences for crack versus powdered cocaine, which many complain are unfair to black defendants.

Ogden said he wanted to work with lawmakers to eliminate the disparity "or at least reduce it very sharply."

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But most of the hearing was consumed with social issues, particularly those that make Ogden objectionable to groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association.

"Ogden has been an activist in support of a right to pornography, a right of abortion and the rights of homosexuals," said Patrick Trueman, a former Justice Department official during the first Bush presidency who is now in private practice.

While a private attorney, Ogden argued on behalf of Playboy and librarians fighting congressionally mandated Internet filtering software.

His clients also include corporate giants such as an oil company and the pharmaceutical industry.

Besides Ogden, conservatives also have taken aim at two other Justice picks — Indiana University professor Dawn Johnsen for her association with an abortion rights group, and Thomas Perrelli, who represented the husband of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a right-to-die case that energized evangelical groups across the country.

Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland and a past colleague of the three during the Clinton administration, said the criticism of the trio is unusual and unwarranted.

"Usually, you may have a fight over who the attorney general is, but this is not par for the course, picking off next to the attorney general three of his top appointments," Greenberger said. "This is harassment and it is an attempt to reverse the election."

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