Starr’s letter — which was addressed to Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, both ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee — makes his backing for Koh official for the first time. Starr was said to have backed Koh during a talk at Yale University, but that report was unconfirmed.
Starr’s backing for Harold Koh — Obama’s choice for legal adviser to the State Department, where he’d potentially undo controversial Bush-era legal policies — should permanently disable the conservative assault on him.
Kenneth Starr: Obama Legal Nominee Under Assault From Right Should Be Confirmed
Most of the folks who have been speaking well of Koh, including and NYU Law Professor Brandt Goldstein, have been doing so under the assumption that Koh would reintroduce the State Department to all those "quaint documents" that they've been ignoring lately. If Starr, whose out-of-control special prosecution of the Whitewater scandal is the stuff of legend, is endorsing Koh, you do have to wonder a little.
Oh, alright, I'm being sarcastic. Here's what Prof. Goldstein had to say recently:
In court, Koh has challenged both republican and democratic administrations in the name of constitutional principle and the rule of law. In 1993, as a young professor, he led the legal fight to shut down this nation's first Guantanamo detention camp, which at the time held innocent Haitian refugees. As explained in my book Storming the Court, Koh sued both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration to establish the principle that Guantanamo is not a law-free zone. Koh later pressed this view on behalf of Cuban detainees in the mid-1990s and then again during the post-9/11 years, when the second Bush administration's lawless use of Guantanamo alienated all of our allies. Koh has staked out an equally strong position against torture. His views are firmly in the mainstream - in line with those of most Americans and similar to the views of Senator John McCain.
Confirm Harold Koh as State Department Legal Adviser
There really has been a wave of idiocy on the Tubez recently regarding Koh, and nearly all of it coming from the usual crowd of right-wing lunatics. They accuse him of favoring Sharia law, for instance. Given the previous quote, that ought to be an absurd accusation on its face. Koh has worked within our legal system to make it obey the law, which isn't based on Sharia. As Dahlia Lithwick notes at Slate:
The New York Post today published a letter from Robin Reeves Zorthian, who actually organized the Yale Club dinner to which Stein refers. In that letter, Zorthian writes that "the account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh's comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate" and that she, her husband, "and several fellow alumni ... are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts." Why should we believe her and her colleagues over Stein? Well, for one thing, Koh in all his academic articles and many public statements has never said anything to suggest some dogged fealty to sharia. But the right-wing blogs have yet to take note of Zorthian's version of events; the sharia fable is chuffing along on its own steam now; and Fox can continue to pass along Stein's account of the story in a breathless game of sky-is-falling telephone.
And Then They Came for Koh ...
The swift-boaters are at it again. They took a letter written by one person days after a supposed conversation that may or may not have taken place as he described it, and magically transformed its odd accusations into established fact.
While I can't be certain that Harold Koh never mentioned Sharia law in any of his publications, I have now searched through 100 entries in the search "Harold Koh sharia law", and have yet to find a single link or reference where Koh has actually discussed this subject. Neither, apparently, could someone at the Yale Alumni Magazine, who interviewed Robin Zorthian. Even the Conservapedia entry lacks a reference, other than to link to an online copy of Steve Stein's letter. Here's the screenshot:
The only links are to Koh's Yale biography, which doesn't mention sharia, and to Daniel Pipe's article, which doesn't provide any proof of the smears it proffers.
Never daunted by the lack of facts, the usual suspects in wingnuttia reiterated the smears, and now it's hard to find a true or profound thing written on this subject for all the blather. As Lithwick mentions, the news, particularly Fox, have now been repeating this nonsense, and some of the usual Republican politicians are now quoting these "news" reports.
This started out being a note about the irony of Kenneth Starr endorsing someone who clearly still believes in the rule of law. What it became, as I started doing Google searches, is another look into the appalling state of our nation's political rhetoric. By now, I've decided that, as Greg Sargent's original quote suggested, Starr's endorsement just might be a good thing. It certainly can't hurt.