Justice Ginsberg on Foreign Law

13 04 2009

From Jefferey Toobin at the New Yorker:

It looks like Harold Koh, President Obama’s nominee for legal adviser at the State Department, may turn out to be the first real confirmation fight in the new Administration. The controversy has been mentioned in a handful of newspapers, but there’s plenty of Internet fire on the anti-Koh, and pro-Koh, side.

The heart of the attack on Koh, who is now the dean of Yale Law School, is that he believes in “transnationalism,” which purportedly is the notion that American courts should honor and apply the laws of other nations in our courts.

I wonder if the so-called controversy over Koh’s transnationalism can be explained away by simply saying that if citing international law is good enough for the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, then it should be good enough for a legal adviser to the U.S. State Department. The Court has cited international law, which is not the same as being bound by it, in cases involving gay rights and the death penalty and the sky did not fall, though it did anger the right.

Adam Liptak reported in the NYT on Saturday that Justice Ruth Ginsberg thinks the debate concerning international is sorta ridiculous.

In her remarks, Justice Ginsburg discussed a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the use of torture to obtain information from people suspected of terrorism.

“The police think that a suspect they have apprehended knows where and when a bomb is going to go off,” she said, describing the question presented in the case. “Can the police use torture to extract that information? And in an eloquent decision by Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of Israel, the court said: ‘Torture? Never.’ ”

The message of the decision, Justice Ginsburg said, was “that we could hand our enemies no greater victory than to come to look like that enemy in our disregard for human dignity.” Then she asked, “Now why should I not read that opinion and be affected by its tremendous persuasive value?”

My sentiments exactly.

Side note: Toobin, apparently has not been following the battles over President Obama’s other executive nominees fight that closely, since he seems to think that Koh would be the first real confirmation fight.
Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, has come under attack from the far right for being a lawyer for NARAL at one point and her unsparing criticism of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and use of torture to extract intelligence information from detainees. Republicans are threatening to filibuster her nomination.

Another nominee, Thomas Saenz, was in the pipeline, though never formally announced, to be Obama’s top civil rights enforcer at the Justice Department until the anti-immigrant right sunk his nomination for his work on successfully challenging local ordinances banning day laborers from city streets and of California’s Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that prevented undocumented immigrants from taking advantage of certain social services.

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2 responses

14 04 2009
tsaenz

Wow, lets remember that if the President doesn’t want to fight for a candidate then maybe the candidate isn’t the right person for the job (i.e. Thomas Saenz). Maybe the candidate should not support a President who isn’t willing to go to bat for him.

15 04 2009
KUT

Well, sometimes fighting to get a candidate confirmed has a lot to do with existing resources. And right now the white house and many of the agency staff is really thin. A lot of mid level and low staff have not been hired in part because of the slow pace of Senate confirmation for more senior posts.

In the early days of administration you are just trying to make sure you have people who can get through the Senate quickly and then hit the ground running otherwise if you get bogged down in fight it could cost you political capital that you would otherwise want to spend on getting legislation through like say reforming health care, or immigration, or education.

But I bet Thomas Saenz will come up again for another post that might not require Senate confirmation. He’s too solid a lawyer for the admin not to want him working for them in some other capacity.

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