Conservatives attack Koh

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.


  • Pierson '90

    Koh can put a stop to this entire controversy today by making an unequivocal public statement that he does not and will not support any law or regulation that makes the rights of US citizens or our courts subject to International Law, and, that Shariah law should never be applied or considered by any court in the US. My hunch is that no such unequivocal statement will be forthcoming.

  • '12

    The "formidable volley of rage" mentioned consists of an op-ed or two, a couple blog posts, and a few cable news mentions. The comments made could hardly be classified as "rage" and were often tempered by some amount of doubt as to what he meant by it. It has been generally accepted, based on several non denials by Koh, that he did say that Shariah law might have to be respected in US courts if a contract were to be governed by it.

    To focus on this small and fading issue, however, is to ignore the extremely legitimate concerns about Koh's confirmed views on international law and U.S. sovereignty. It was bad enough when he mocked our Constitution as the dean of YLS, but to have him actually charged in some small way with its defense?

  • Clarence

    It's a sing of just how out-of-it the right wing has become that they could even believe Koh would say something so ridiculous. If the right wants to find a way back to power, not listening to Glenn Beck would be a good start.

  • Recent Alum

    If only YLS professors had defended Bork as vigorously as they are now defending Koh…

  • T.R

    Why would it be "absurdKoh would say that? Supreme Ct Justice Breyer said something similiar, and he was raked over the coals for that stupid statement. Yes I believe Koh said it and like too many justices they don't think about the law of the land they "feel" the law. Oh and welcome to a "Media Matters" world who have lived on the "out of context" words to have them fired, removed and humiliated.

  • Lee

    Hopefully the new Dean will be more welcoming to military recruiters.

  • Yale law grad

    These conspiracy theories about Koh are completely insane. They are also kind of depressing. Any intelligent person who reads any of Koh's articles can see that he doesn't advocate any super-national takeover of U.S. law, let alone "Sharia" law. (I can't believe I'm even repeating this ridiculousness.) He is a mainstream scholar of international law, a body of law which (I know this will amaze some of you) has existed since the long before the founding of this country.

    The people who are spouting these crazy theories either
    (1) genuinely believe them, in which case they are so monumentally ignorant about law that they should really not be getting mainstream air time, or
    (2) know they're false, but want to "stir the pot" anyway.

    I don't know which is scarier -- epic ignorance or the malicious lies. Either way, it's not a pretty picture. FOX news should take a cue from Ted Olsen and others and try to get serious here.

  • Yaw Law

    The fact is Yale is gone cooky, and so have its editors. I in no way support such an institution. In regards to Koh, the fact is, he is a pro-abortionist and Transnationalist, and completely backwards in his thinking.

    We are on the pathway toward universalism, and that my friend, is when we give up our sovereignty. Koh, would like to see that!

  • Anonymous

    Is this done?

  • Yale Law School conservatives

    Conservative and Federalist Society students at YLS posted this statement about Koh on a legal blog


    In the past few days, conservative pundits have filled the airwaves with vocal opposition to Harold Koh's nomination as Legal Adviser to the State Department. As conservative students at Yale Law School, we have long disagreed with Dean Koh's views on international law, but we are both surprised and disappointed by the virulent tone and false claims we are hearing from some of Koh's opponents. In response to these deceitful and incendiary attacks, we feel compelled to say a few words on his behalf.

    Dean Koh has been very supportive of conservative students and conservative student organizations. He has mentored conservative students, participated in Federalist Society events, and gone out of his way to include conservatives and their ideas in classroom discussions. Dean Koh has always been not only forthright and honest about his views, but also fair and solicitous of conservative opinions in public and private.

    He is also an honorable man and eminently qualified to serve. He is a widely respected lawyer and academic who has thought deeply about international law and served with distinction in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He has a passion for public service that he passes on to students of all political views. Dean Koh is one of
    the brightest legal minds of his generation, a credit to the profession we look forward to joining, and an able and effective public servant.

    As conservatives, we do ourselves no favors when we adopt a shrill tone or make dishonest arguments against such people. For instance, the claim that Dean Koh would apply Sharia law in U.S. courts is simply absurd. While we were not present when he allegedly spoke on the subject, we are thoroughly acquainted with his views on
    transnationalism and find it impossible to believe that he would say such a thing.

    Turning distinguished and dedicated public servants into boogeymen is nothing but dishonorable, and it has no place in American conservatism.