On March 24, Barack Obama nominated Harold Koh, the just-resigned dean of Yale Law School, to be legal adviser to the Department of State, a Senate-confirmed job that would have him, writes Meghan Clyne in the New York Post, "forge a wide range of international agreements on issues from trade to arms control, and help represent our country in such places as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice."
Harold Koh, Obama administration nominee to serve as legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State.
He appears to exemplify the "transnational progressivist" mentality that John Fonte of the Hudson Institute identified back in 2002 in Orbis magazine (and which I summarized in the New York Post). If there is a single key to this mentality, it is the diminishment of the individual person in favor of various groupings.
But what brings Koh to attention here is his apparent endorsement of Islamic law within the American court system. Clyne writes:
A New York lawyer, Steven Stein, says that, in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed that "in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States."
That letter can be read at National Review Online. In response,
A spokeswoman for Koh said she couldn't confirm the incident, responding: "I had heard that some guy . . . had asked a question about sharia law, and that Dean Koh had said something about that while there are obvious differences among the many different legal systems, they also share some common legal concepts."
Comments: (1) The day may have arrived when Americans, like Britons and the Dutch, have to stave off their establishment advocating Shari'a. It's a dark day, indeed. (2) The Senate must reject Harold Koh as State's legal advisor for his "transnational" worldview is unacceptable. (March 30, 2009)
Mar. 31, 2009 update: David Limbaugh adds some information to Clyne's research at "Another Day, Another Scary Nomination":
It turns out that on March 21, 2007, Carol Iannone, on Phi Beta Cons blog, published a letter from Stein to Dean Koh about his Yale Club remarks. Stein wrote, in part, "In your discussion of 'global law' I recall at least one favorable reference to 'Sharia', among other foreign laws that could, in an appropriate instance (according to you) govern a controversy in a federal or state court in the US."
Limbaugh goes on to comment: "Whether or not Koh ever responded to Stein's letter, Stein's representations of Koh's remarks are certainly consistent with Koh's writings that I reviewed."
In addition, I was contacted this morning by Robin Reeves Zorthian, Yale '76 of Greenwich Connecticut. After a back-and-forth, she sent me this statement in a personal note:
I was the organizer of the March 13, 2007 dinner of the Yale Alumni Association of Greenwich. Harold Koh was our guest speaker and his subject was "Globalization and the Yale Law School. I can attest that Dean Koh never told our group that he would or might consider applying sharia law in US cases.
Writing in a comment on my website, she impugns the integrity of the person who reported this incident: "Steven Stein has fabricated this entire controversy to promote his own political agenda."
Comment: Koh may not have made the alleged statement but it closely fits his general outlook. I therefore hope the senators who question him bring up this topic and probe it carefully.
Apr. 1, 2009 update: Ed Whelan cautions at National Review:
Given the current state of the record, Koh's critics (a group to which I belong) should not base their case against Koh on a remark that Koh allegedly made about the possible application of sharia law in cases in U.S. courts. They should not do so, first and foremost, because it is far from clear that Koh actually made any such remark. They should not do so, secondly, because any such remark, even if made, may actually be entirely innocuous and defensible. (Imagine, say, a contract that has a choice-of-law provision that specifies that the sharia commercial law of an Islamic country shall govern disputes over the contract, no matter where the lawsuit is filed; is it clear that U.S. courts shouldn't look to that law to determine the interest rate, if any, on any amounts past due?) They should not do so, thirdly, because there is so much else in Koh's record that is both indisputable (as a matter of fact) and highly objectionable.
I agree; the Shari'a remark is a sideshow to the larger drama. But Koh's alleged remark does raise unprecedented issues of Islamic law that need on their own to be seriously addressed.
Also, Fox News reports that White House spokesman Reid Cherlin described Steven J. Stein's version of events as "not accurate" and noted that the host of the event in 2007 disputes Stein's account.