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Second ivy league law school dean tapped by Obama

By A. James Memmott

March 26, 2009 at 10:13am

Further signaling its shift away from the Bush administration, the Obama administration has nominated Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School, to be the top legal adviser at the State Department.

Koh was an outspoken critic of the policies on human rights advocated by legal advisers to George W. Bush.

In particular, he opposed a 2002 White House memo supporting harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists, telling the The New York Times they were “embarrassing” and “abominable.”

Harold H. Koh
Harold H. Koh

Koh is also an expert on international law, a qualification that does not enamor him with conservatives.

“He aims to use international bodies and treaties to deprive American citizens of their powers of representative government, and subject American government to rule by a transnational elite of leftist lawyers,” said Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, told The Los Angeles Times.

If confirmed, Koh will have a Yale Law connection with his new boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who graduated from that school in 1973.

He’s the second Ivy League law school dean to be tapped for a post in the Obama administration.

The Senate last week confirmed the nomination of Elena Kagan, the Harvard Law dean, as solicitor general. Like Koh, Kagan is also a Harvard Law graduate.

Koh, who will face confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a native of Boston and a 1975 graduate of Harvard College.

From there, he went to Oxford University as a Marshall scholar and then returned to the United States, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1980.

He then clerked first for Judge Malcolm R. Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit and then for Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He practiced law for a year at the firm of Covington & Burling before working at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan administration.

Koh joined the Yale Law faculty in 1995, taking time off from 1998 to 2001 to serve in the Clinton administration as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

In 2004, Koh became Yale Law’s 15th dean.

According to the Yale Daily News, he will resign his deanship if his nomination to the State Department post is confirmed.

Upon completion of his service at the State Department, he plans on returning to the school as a professor, the newspaper reported.

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