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Harold Hongju Koh Confirmed as Legal Adviser of U.S. State Department

“Some of you aren’t sure exactly what comes next,” Harold Hongju Koh told Yale Law grads during his commencement address May 25. “Neither am I. But on this beautiful day, full of hope, we put aside uncertainty for optimism.”

The uncertainty ended and the optimism paid off for Dean Koh today. By a vote of 62 to 35, the U.S. Senate confirmed him as Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State. Koh, on the Yale Law School faculty since 1985 and dean for the past five years, will be on leave from the Law School during his time in Washington. He will return to teach when his public service ends.

“I cannot tell you how much the friendship and support of countless friends in the Yale Law School family has meant to me these last few months,” said Koh. “I feel so grateful and lucky. One former Legal Adviser described his job as ‘speaking law to power.’ I pledge to do my very best to bring the enduring values of our Law School to serve our country in facing its global challenges.” | Koh's full message |

President Barack Obama nominated Koh on March 23, and on May 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination, sending it on to the full Senate. In his new position, Koh will advise on all legal issues, domestic and international, arising in the course of the State Department’s work.

“Yale Law School’s great loss is the nation’s great gain, said Professor Robert Post ’77, who will take over as dean of Yale Law School on July 1. “Our thoughts and prayers go with Harold as he begins this new journey. We have confidence that he will make enormous contributions to the development of the rule of law in the world.”

“We will miss Harold’s enormous energy, his invigoration of so many parts of the Law School, and his powerful advocacy for a legal profession committed to service to others," said Acting Dean Kate Stith. “But most of all, we will miss his great heart and generous spirit. We look forward to his return to the Law School at the conclusion of his important public service for our country.”

An expert on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights, Koh was the 15th dean of Yale Law School and Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law. He began teaching at Yale Law School in 1985 and was named dean in 2004. From 1998 to 2001, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He previously served on the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Public International Law. Before joining Yale, he was Attorney-Adviser at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice and prior to that, practiced law at Covington and Burling.

He holds a B.A. from Harvard College and B.A. and M.A. degrees from Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School, where he was Developments Editor of the Harvard Law Review. He served law clerkships with Judge Malcolm Richard Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

He is author or co-author of eight books and more than 170 articles. He has argued before the United States Supreme Court and has testified before Congress more than twenty times. He has been awarded eleven honorary degrees and more than thirty awards for his human rights work, including awards from Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association for his lifetime achievements in International law.

He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and a member of the Council of the American Law Institute. He has sat on the boards of Harvard University, the Brookings Institution, Human Rights First, the American Arbitration Association, and the National Democratic Institute. He was named one of America’s “45 Leading Public Sector Lawyers Under The Age of 45” by American Lawyer magazine and one of the “100 Most Influential Asian-Americans of the 1990s” by A Magazine.