I had the tremendous pleasure of attending Dean Harold Hongju Koh’s confirmation hearing yesterday. Beth Van Schaack’s post did an excellent job of highlighting the major issues discussed. I want to build on her exposition by focusing on the tone of the discussion as a model for discussing international and transnational issues.
The room was full with a diverse mix of people throughout the hearing, at times nearly overflowing. I felt a focused energy from the crowd, which mirrored that of the committee members and Dean Koh.
What impressed me most about the hearing was the quality of the discourse. Although several Senators referenced the baseless attacks on Dean Koh in the blogosphere and some media outlets (debunked in prior IntLawGrrls posts), both Democrats and Republicans made it clear from the start of the hearing that they planned to focus on substance and that they respected his distinguished record of public and academic service. With the exception of Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pressing Dean Koh on why he read one of his answers (to which Dean Koh ably responded that he wanted to give the best answer possible), the hearing focused on the role of the State Department Legal Adviser and major issues in foreign relations law.
Dean’s Koh’s answers were thoughtful and lucid. He articulated clearly his understanding of the differing roles of public officials and academics, as well as those of the Legal Adviser and judges, while at the same time elucidating the arguments that he has made in his voluminous scholarship and public addresses over the years. The discussion ranged from the relationship among branches of government, to the role of foreign and international law in policy and judicial decisonmaking, to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. There were clear political differences in the room — often acknowledged — but those variations in viewpoint were expressed through respectful disagreement.
I hope that the tone of broader public discourse can become more like what I witnessed yesterday. Reasonable people often disagree about crucial legal and policy questions. As the members of the committee and Dean Koh amply demonstrated, this country is best served by vetting our potential public officials based in the substance of their record and views.