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Conservatives Target Obama Appointee Harold Koh

New America Media, Commentary, Henry Fernandez Posted: Apr 07, 2009

Editor's Note: Right-wing conservatives cast doubt on Obama's appointment of Harold Koh as legal advisor to the State Department, writes NAM contributor Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center For American Progress Action Fund. This commentary originally appeared as a blog at ThinkProgress.

As ThinkProgress recently noted, a small number of conspiracy-theory, far-right conservatives have raised concerns about Obamas appointment of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser to the Department of State. Their nutty views have been trumped up by Fox News and the NY Post, with extremist Glenn Beck leading the charge. This despite there being no basis in reality for the charges against Koh.

Today on his Fox News show, Beck ranted some more against Koh. Beck conceded, There is a big debate on the internet, in the New York Times and everybody else, saying that Im a crazy nut-job because of Harold Koh. Watch it:

Koh is currently Dean of Yale Law School, with an international law and human rights resume that makes him uniquely qualified to be the top lawyer at the State Department. Unfortunately, these stellar qualifications have not been sufficient to move him quickly through the Senate, as he is one of several appointees being delayed by conservatives.

The rights fabricated concern is that Koh would allow international law to trump U.S. law. This is based apparently on Kohs speech to the Yale Alumni Association of Greenwich Connecticut, from which observer Steve Stein gathered that Koh wanted Islamic sharia law to govern in U.S. courts. But there is good reason to not believe Stein. The organizer of the event and head of the Alumni Association, Robin Reeves Zorthian, wrote to the NY Post:

The account given by Steve Stein of Dean Kohs comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate. I was in the room with my husband and several fellow alumni, and we are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts. The subject of his talk was Globalization and Yale Law School, so, of course, other forms of law were mentioned. But never did Koh state or suggest that other forms of law should govern or dictate the American legal system. Hopefully, your readers are interested in the facts.

More facts: Koh has consistently used US federal law in the U.S. federal courts to go after the leaders of military juntas that have killed Americans and citizens of other countries. This is the exact opposite of allowing foreign laws to trump U.S. law. He has also used US law to protect those who face persecution at the hands of powerful dictators.

Kohs commitment to the rule of law is what really offends the hard right. His belief in the supremacy of US law has put him in direct conflict with some of the conspiracists favorite folks. Dean Koh testified before Congress against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General because of Gonzales support for torture. He also challenged the right of George H.W. Bush to house innocent Haitian refugees at a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Kohs opponent then-Solicitor General Ken Starr argued that US law did not apply at Guantanamo, and thus the Haitians had no rights. Koh argued that both U.S. law and U.S. morality certainly applied there.

Harold Koh should be appointed, while liars and crazy people should be ignored.

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