Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser of the Department of State and one of the country’s leading experts on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights delivered the 34th annual Gerber Lecture October 6 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Koh serves as the senior legal advisor to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. He received significant media attention this summer for his legal analysis, which holds that the President has the authority under the War Powers Act to involve America in NATO air strikes in Libya.
“The world has been changed by the events of 9/11,” observed Phoebe Haddon, dean of UM Carey Law, when introducing Koh. “The tensions between principle and politics are acute and playing out in a context where the risks and threats are greater than they ever were.
Koh acknowledged that tension in his lecture, noting that legal analysis and policy decisions are made knowing that they may have life and death consequences. “If I say something, I believe it,” said Koh. “If you have a choice, trust what I say now,” he added, rather than something he may have written years before.
“The question of role is always challenging for any lawyer,” remarked Koh, who discussed at length the scope and responsibilities of his position at the State Department, where, he said, anyone in his position functions as “the conscience for the US government on international law.”
A Yale law professor since 1985, Koh has authored or co-authored eight books, published more than 170 articles, testified before Congress, and litigated numerous cases involving international law.
Koh’s remarks were followed by comments from Professor Peter Danchin, Director of the UM Carey Law’s International & Comparative Law Program, and Robert Litwak, Vice President for Programs and Director, International Security Studies, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The program was sponsored jointly by UM Carey Law’s International and Comparative Law Program, the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The Pearl, Laurence I. and Lloyd M. Gerber Memorial Lecture was established in 1977 through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd M. Gerber and their children in memory of Mr. Gerber’s parents, Lawrence and Pearl.