In a Reiss Center dialogue, Harold Koh points to weaknesses in Trump’s presidency

The rule of law in the United States is more powerful than President Donald Trump, Yale Law School Sterling Professor of International Law Harold Koh contended in a November 26 event hosted by the Reiss Center on Law and Security and the online forum Just Security. The subject of his discussion with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was Koh’s new book, The Trump Administration and International Law, which Toobin described as “strikingly optimistic” in a time when many are concerned about the state of the US political system under Donald Trump's administration. 

Koh summed it up simply: “He’s not winning.” 

By ignoring many governmental norms, the Trump administration has invited legal challenges and bureaucratic resistance, thus hobbling many of its policy initiatives, argued Koh, who served as legal adviser of the US Department of State when Barack Obama was president. “The guardrails of law are basically holding,” Koh said. “There’s a lot of sound and fury, but if you actually totaled up what's happened in the last two years, there's been much less real accomplishment and much more of a rattling of the cages.”

Watch video of the event: 

Select quotations from Harold Koh:

“Trump, I think, misunderstands the world. He thinks the world is deals, and what we all understand is, the world is relationships. And what they’re learning on the other side of the Atlantic in Brexit is how disastrous it is to think of the world as deals.”

“Everything that's going on at the border…is actually a series of ways in which Trump is trying to reassert the essentially the same policy, this zero tolerance policy. Every time he does it, it gets blocked. You know, he started trying to do family separations. That got blocked by the Flores 20-day provision. Then he said no birthright citizenship. Turns out that that's legally required. Then he said you can’t apply for asylum except at a port of entry. Turned out that violates a statute. And as a result, each time he's doing it, there’s an obstacle.”

“The institutions of our civic society and our alliances are much stronger than Trump and they encircle Trump.… And among them, by the way, are law schools. Because our students—here, I know, at NYU, but also at my law school at Yale—you know, they’re not going back. They’re not going back to racism. They’re not going back to lynching. They’re not going back to discriminating against their friends based on their sexual orientation. They’re not going back to saying it’s immigrants that are the problem.… That’s what gives me hope.”

Posted January 31, 2019