Conservative bloggers and pundits unleashed a formidable volley of rage against Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh this week in the wake of a report — the accuracy of which is being contested — that the dean made comments in favor of the use of Shariah law in U.S. courts.
This particular fracas centers around comments Koh purportedly made at a 2007 dinner for Yale alumni. It is not the first time the dean has caught fire for his liberal politics, and likely indicates that the road to the Department of State — where Koh is set to take over as legal adviser — will be rockier than it was over a decade ago, when Koh was unanimously confirmed as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
A March 30 article in the New York Post touched off the current firestorm. That article reported that Koh had made comments supportive of using Shariah law in U.S. courts at a March 2007 event with the Yale Club of Greenwich, based on claims made by a New York lawyer, Steven Stein. Shortly after that dinner, a letter from Stein to Koh appeared on National Review’s Web site that slammed the dean and cited select bellicose passages from the Quran.
Whether the Shariah story is even true has been the subject of much of this week’s debate. In an interview Thursday, Robin Zorthian ’76, who organized the event in Greenwich, dismissed Stein’s claims as entirely false. Zorthian said Stein, a Yale alumnus’ guest that night, seemed a “tad unreasonable” throughout the question-and-answer session with Koh.
“[Koh] never said that Shariah law could or should be applied in the United States,” Zorthian said. “It seemed as if [Stein] was trying to pin down [Koh] to say something.”
Still, right after the story hit newsstands, conservative pundits were up in arms.
“Once [Koh] signs our rights over to international law,” Fox News commentator Glenn Beck said Monday on his radio show, “the Constitution is officially dead.”
Right-wing columnist David Limbaugh labeled Koh a man who “believes America is always the bad guy.”
But some on the political right also discredited the allegations. Ed Whelan, writing for National Review Online, said Koh’s critics should refrain from using the remarks as fodder for attacking the dean because “it is far from clear that Koh actually made any such remark.”
Despite the attacks, the White House has stood firmly behind Koh all week. In an e-mailed statement Thursday, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin ’03 denounced the allegations as “complete fabrications” and “politically motivated.”
“These attacks are gross distortions,” Cherlin wrote. “[President Obama and Secretary Clinton] look forward to Dean Koh’s confirmation by the Senate.”
Law School professor Scott Shapiro LAW ’90 also dismissed the allegations against Koh as “obviously absurd.”
“I’d be shocked if he said such a thing,” Shapiro said. “It seems to be a smear campaign against an extremely learned and decent man.”
No date has yet been set for Koh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.