This vote was on an attempt to bring debate on a nomination to a close (known as a “cloture motion” in the Senate).
The nomination in question was for Harold Koh to be the State Department’s legal advisor. The nomination would place Koh, the outgoing dean of Yale’s law school, as the State Department’s top lawyer.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
Republicans had held up Koh’s nomination for three months because of some of his past views about international law. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has particularly said he is concerned about what he termed Koh’s past acceptance of international law as a guide for the U.S. judicial system, suggestions that Koh has disputed.
Koh has taken stances critical of President George Bush’s counterterrorism and foreign policies, which he has suggested have harmed America’s standing abroad.
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said this job will require Koh to pay “the utmost deference” to the Constitution, and questioned whether Koh could do that, given his belief that “Americans should use foreign law and the views of international organizations to interpret our Constitution and to determine our policies.” Kyl said he is concerned that Koh would apply his belief that international standards and norms should supersede U.S. standards and norms in some instances, such as on firearms control and homosexuals serving in the military.
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Koh’s credentials are impeccable, and that he will serve capably in the position.
“I don't know that you could present a stronger resume for a man who wants to serve our country, to be involved in public service and step out of his professional life as a lawyer in the private sector, with law schools. He has been endorsed by leaders, legal scholars from both political parties, including the former Solicitor General Ted Olson, former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, former Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, seven former Department of State legal advisers, including three Republicans, more than 100 law school deans, and 600 law school professors from around the country. What more do we ask for someone who wants to serve this country?”
By a vote of 65-31, the motion was adopted. Every Democrat present voted for the motion. Of Republicans present, eight voted for the motion and 31 voted against it. The end result is that the motion succeeded, and debate was brought to a close on confirming Harold Koh to be the State Department’s legal adviser. He was later confirmed.