Law School begins search for new dean

With a date now set for Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh’s confirmation hearing, the school is ready to begin the search for his successor.

Koh, who has been nominated to serve as legal adviser to the Department of State, will appear before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, the committee announced Wednesday morning. Several hours later, University President Richard Levin announced the formation of an all-faculty search committee to find the Law School’s 16th dean.

Harold Hongju Koh, Yale Law School Dean.
Grant Smith
Harold Hongju Koh, Yale Law School Dean.

“It’ll take as long as it takes,” Levin said of the search process in a Wednesday evening interview. “I think realistically we might reach a conclusion sometime this summer, [but] before Commencement is unlikely.”

Law professor Paul Kahn GRD ’77 LAW ’80 will chair the eight-member committee, Levin said. The committee, which will meet for the first time Thursday, also includes law professors Robert Ellickson LAW ’66, Douglas Kysar, John Langbein, Daniel Markovits ’91 LAW ’00, Tracey Meares, Susan Rose-Ackerman GRD ’70, James Whitman ’80 LAW ’88 and Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93.

The announcement of a date for Koh’s confirmation hearing puts a finish line in sight for Koh’s nomination, which has been the subject of intense debate for over a month.

Several days after President Barack Obama named Koh as his choice to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 top legal aide on March 23, conservative commentators voiced concerns that the dean would place international statutes above American law. In particular, they pointed to comments Koh allegedly made at a 2007 Yale alumni dinner that implied Shariah law could apply in U.S. courts. The truth of those allegations has been disputed by some who attended the dinner.

In recent weeks, debate has refocused around earlier Koh statements that the United States should adhere to international norms. Conservative scholars have called these statements a threat to American sovereignty.

But former solicitor generals Theodore Olson and Kenneth Starr — both prominent conservatives — have made statements in support of Koh’s nomination.

“Harold Koh, in short, is not only a great lawyer, but a truly great man of irreproachable integrity,” Starr wrote in a letter to the Foreign Relations Committee dated April 14.

Koh will appear before the committee, chaired by Sen. John Kerry ’66, at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Washington. If confirmed, Koh will immediately step down from the deanship.

Paul Needham contributed reporting.

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