David J. Barron, the acting head of the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel, will step down next month and be replaced by one of his current deputies, Jonathan G. Cedarbaum, the department said Thursday.
Much of the work of the Office of Legal Counsel is confidential, but over the past 18 months Mr. Barron has handled a variety of issues including wartime questions like how much involvement with Al Qaeda is necessary to make a terrorism suspect subject to detention without trial and domestic matters like whether stalking and domestic violence laws apply to same-sex couples.
Mr. Barron’s replacement, Mr. Cedarbaum, came to public attention earlier this year after Fox News named him as one of several Justice Department lawyers who had previously advocated for detainees.
Those lawyers had been attacked as the “Al Qaeda Seven” by a group led by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. The Cheney and Kristol group was in turn accused of McCarthyism by critics from across the political spectrum.
The Fox report characterized Mr. Cedarbaum’s involvement in advocating for detainees as “minor” and “short-lived.” At a partner at the WilmerHale law firm, he was one of several lawyers whose name appeared on a Supreme Court brief in a case involving six Algerian detainees who had been arrested in Bosnia, and who were seeking a right to a habeas-corpus hearing.
Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said that Mr. Cedarbaum is recused from matters arising from one of the Algerian-Bosnian detainees, but is free to deal with detainee legal policy matters more generally.
President Obama has not yet submitted a new nominee to the Senate to lead the office following the withdrawal of Ms. Johnsen, and it was not clear whether Mr. Cedarbaum was under consideration for that selection.