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Cloture filed in nomination of Harold Koh as Legal Adviser at State

Harold Koh

Harold Koh

The Washington Independent reports:

On Monday, nearly four months after President Obama nominated Harold Koh to become legal adviser to the State Department, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture and moved his nomination to the floor.

The Independent explains:

Koh’s qualifications for the State Department job have never really been in dispute. A veteran of both the Reagan and the Clinton presidencies, a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who counts Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Alan Dershowitz among his friends, Koh’s nomination was welcomed by several influential Republican lawyers. Ken Starr, the former Clinton foe who is now Dean of Pepperdine University Law School, remembered Koh as a “vigorous adversary” but commended him to the U.S. Senate as a “truly great man of irreproachable integrity.” Ted Olsen echoed Starr, calling Koh a “brilliant scholar and a man of great integrity.” John Bellinger, who served as George W. Bush’s final legal adviser to the State Department, welcomed Koh as a “well qualified” candidate who “should be confirmed.”

After all of that came months of attacks, wrangling, and stale-mating over Koh’s thinking on “transnational” law and belief that American jurisprudence should respect for “the opinions of mankind,” as he put it in 2002. This reached a certain level of farce last week, when Koh’s brother Howard was confirmed, controversy-free, to a post in the Department of Health and Human Services. And the saga may or may not end with Koh’s confirmation. The majority leader is “optimistic we will have the 60 votes needed,” according to spokesperson Regan Lachappelle. But on Monday afternoon, Reid saw that Republicans “would not agree to an up or down vote” and that Democrats had “no choice but to file cloture.” All sides expect a contentious, tip-and-tuck vote, and Democrats are prepared for a debate that could last several days if outspoken opponents of the nomination such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) decide to drag out the process.

This delay on Koh’s vote has indeed been absurd. We desparately need his voice– not only at the State Department, but more generally in the Executive Branch, as the Obama Administration continues to reconceptualize America’s approach to detainee treatment and other human rights issues.

Now, is it too much to ask that Dawn Johnsen be confirmed as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel?

(HT: Caitlyn Antrim)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.