Harold Koh is a respected legal theorist. He served as an Assistant Secretary of State under Bill Clinton and was Dean of the Yale Law School. Recently, he has been nominated by President Obama to serve as State Department Legal Adviser, the highest legal position in the State Department. Certain elements of the right have decided that Koh is unacceptable. There are various ludicrous claims circulating, including that he wants to implement Sharia. Glenn Beck had this to say:
There’s so much wrong with this statement that I don’t know where to begin. Beck apparently thinks that the notion that law change over time dates to “the 1920s” in response to “Darwinian evolution.” I can’t tell if this is some sort of garbled critique of judicial activism since Beck doesn’t seem to object only to changes brought by a judiciary but all changes, even those coming from the legislature.
In any event, Beck, here is a quick history lesson: Most legal systems rely on systems of precedent and as, the precedents change, the controlling law changes. This isn’t new at all. One sees this in the Talmud. The basic system of Common Law used in Great Britain and the United States dates back to the Middle Ages, hundreds of years before Darwin. As much as the religious right likes to blame everything on evolution, this has nothing to do with that.
I’m also puzzled by Beck’s statement at another level: Even if we grant him his bizarrely counterfactual claim about the nature of law, does that mean he would rather we have all laws stay as they were in the 1920s? Should we keep anti-miscegenation laws? Should we have no regulations to govern new technologies such as the internet and airplanes?
Jay Sekulow does not come across very well in this segment either. He gives a more measured, somewhat rational critique of Koh. However when Beck asks Sekulow whether Beck is correct, Sekulow says “yes” and then gives his measured statement. I’d have a lot more respect for Sekulow if he had said “no” and then made the same statement.
Beck’s ignorance is made all the more glaring by the fact that he then calls for the firing of people at the New York Times for not, in his opinion, having sufficient understanding of what “transnationalism” means. The arrogance here is so stunning that I’m forced to conclude that this is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
I’ve interacted with Koh in the past and he’s clearly a very bright guy; I know personally Dean Koh and his family. He was a trustee of the high school I attended. My twin brother Aaron has been his student at the Yale Law School and is now his research assistant. Thus, it annoys me that this idiot Beck would be given a show on a major news channel to spout such garbage. There is a bright side to this: any sane person can look at what Beck and his allies are saying about Koh. If this is the worst they can come up with, then it makes it all the more clear that Koh is the right man for the job.
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