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Koh, No? Critics Decry Obama Nominee for State Department Legal Adviser

President Obama's nominee to be the State Department's legal adviser has ignited a fury among conservative critics who say his views are a threat to American democracy -- an accusation the White House on Tuesday called "outrageous" and "completely baseless."

Former Clinton administration official Harold Koh, who has been dean of the Yale Law School since 2004, once wrote that the U.S. was part of an "axis of disobedience" with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Koh also has long held that the U.S. should accept international law when deliberating cases at home.

Obama nominated Koh on March 23 to become the State Department's legal adviser -- an appointment that, if confirmed by the Senate, will give Koh far-reaching influence over the extent to which international norms affect U.S. law. 

"This is not a desk job. This guy will be the face of American international law around the world," said Steven Gross, legal expert and fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"The top legal adviser at State travels extensively and is involved in international legal negotiations, treaties and in major United Nations conferences. 

"The president should have the right to choose the most conservative or liberal legal advisers to give them advice, but this is much more than that. The concern is that he cares as much about -- if not more about -- international law and integrating that into the American judicial system than he does about protecting American prerogatives and American sovereignty," Gross said.

The White House vehemently defended Koh's nomination on Tuesday, telling FOXNews.com that he is "one of the most respected members of the legal community."

Koh "earned wide bipartisan praise as assistant secretary of state and he's universally respected by legal scholars," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told FOXNews.com. "The president looks forward to working with him at the State Department. He's a strong believer in the Constitution, and the president nominated him because of his firm defense of the Constitution."

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid also offered praise for Obama's nominee.

"Dean Koh is universally respected for his legal scholarship and previously served as an assistant secretary of state -- and was praised for his work by Republicans and Democrats alike," Duguid said. "President Obama and Secretary Clinton strongly believe he's the right person for the job."  

Koh, like Obama, is a strong opponent of the Iraq war and the use of harsh interrogation techniques that some consider torture. He has fiercely criticized former President George W. Bush for invading Iraq in 2003 and has accused the Bush administration of trying to "block public release of more Abu Ghraib type pictures."

"We should resist the claim that a War on Terror permits the commander in chief's power to be expanded into a wanton power to act as torturer in chief," Koh wrote in an article published in May 2006 in the Indiana Law Journal.

Koh also advocates a "transnational legal process" and has criticized the U.S. for its failure to "obey global norms."

In an article published in the Berkeley Journal of International Law in 2004, Koh wrote, "What role can transnational legal process play in affecting the behavior of several nations whose disobedience with international law has attracted global attention after September 11th -- most prominently, North Korea, Iraq and our own country, the United States of America? For shorthand purposes, I will call these countries 'the axis of disobedience.'"

And in a Stanford Law Review article published in May 2003, Koh wrote that supporters of the International Criminal Court should bring pressure to bear on U.S. opinion "with an eye toward persuading U.S. officials that the ICC actually serves U.S. interests." 

A March 21, 2007, blog posting on National Review's Web site shows a letter written by New York attorney Steven J. Stein to Koh, challenging Koh for supposedly saying during a speech to the Yale Club of Greenwich that year that Islamic law could apply to disputes in U.S. courts.

"In your discussion of 'global law' I recall at least one favorable reference to 'Sharia,' among other foreign laws that could, in an appropriate instance (according to you) govern a controversy in a federal or state court in the U.S.," Stein wrote in his letter addressed to Koh.

Cherlin said Stein's version of events is "not accurate," and that the host of the event in question disputed the account. Stein could not be reached for comment.

Koh's critics insist his legal views undermine the U.S. Constitution and American sovereignty. 

John Fonte, senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, told FOXNews.com that Koh's views have "a very big practical effect on American foreign policy and on American democracy. 

"This is international imperialism. Under Koh's plan, the Constitution would become secondary and international law would take precedence regardless of what Americans said about the matter." 

Supporters tout Koh as a leading expert on public and private international law, national security law and human rights.

He served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 1998 to 2001, and previously had served on the secretary of state's Advisory Committee on Public International Law. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and testified before Congress dozens of times, and he's received more than 30 awards for his human rights work, according to Yale's Web site.

Cherlin described Koh as "an American success story." (His brother, Howard Koh, was tapped by the president two days later for a position in the Health and Human Services Department.)

"He's the son of immigrants. He's a dedicated teacher and professor, and does great work. We don't have any question whatsoever about any of these issues raised by critics who are sworn opponents of the administration," said Cherlin, who said the conservative critics' opposition was "ideologically driven."