Now that his successor has been named, what happens if Harold Hongju Koh fails to win confirmation as legal adviser to the Department of State?

Put it this way: Yale officials really, really don’t think that’s going to happen.  It better not, at least, or Koh may come back to find himself working in a much smaller office in the Sterling Law Building.

Back in March, when President Barack Obama announced his, Koh said he would return to the deanship if the Senate did not confirm his nomination.  University President Richard Levin, for his part, said he had planned to reappoint Koh, whose first five-year term ends June 30.

So why did Yale officials go ahead on Monday with their announcement of Robert Post’s appointment as Koh’s successor, given that Koh has not been confirmed yet?

“We all believe Dean Koh will be confirmed,” Levin explained in an interview Monday. “The search process got under way, it led to a natural conclusion and pretty much everyone thought — including Dean Koh — that we should just move forward.”

Janet Conroy, a spokeswoman for the Law School, said the announcement was made Monday in part because the University wanted to have a new dean in place by the time Koh’s term would have expired.  Acting Dean Kate Stith agreed to serve until a new dean was appointed, Conroy said, “but there was a preference on all sides for that person to be in place by July 1.”

Yale officials did get some good news later Monday, about eight hours after Post’s appointment was announced.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would force a vote on Koh’s nomination Wednesday morning if Republicans do not back down by then.

Paul Needham contributed reporting.