Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Jessup Moot Court Competition.

Author:Schwebel, Stephen M.
Position:Proceedings of the One Hundred Third Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: International Law as Law


The special dinner event began at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 27, in commemoration of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Judge Stephen M. Schwebel of the International Court of Justice (retired) and Judge Rosalyn Higgins of the International Court of Justice (retired) were the distinguished speakers.


Fifty years ago, in 1959, I was a newly minted Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School--newly minted, but not bright and shiny. The brightest element of my daunting teaching load was jointly teaching the basic course in public international law with Professor Richard R. Baxter. Baxter and I had become friends in 1950 when we both studied with Professor Lauterpacht at Cambridge University. Baxter, then a captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the United States Army, had been sent to plumb the depths of the law of war under Lauterpacht, who had recently revised the British War Manual. I found myself in Cambridge studying international law on Harvard's Knox fellowship. It was a pleasure nine years later to be teaching together with Baxter, who was as effervescent as he was acute.

Moot courts were an entrenched institution of Harvard Law School teaching. One day Baxter proposed that we set up a moot court in international law. I said, "Good idea," whereupon, in best military style, Baxter said that I had just volunteered to draft the problem to be put to the moot court advocates. So I prepared a problem on a topic current then and current today: Cuba's discriminatory and confiscatory expropriation of American owned property in Cuba.

The court was composed of Professor Milton Katz, Professor Roger Fisher, and myself. The advocates were Tom Farer, William Zabel, Ivan Head (a Canadian), and Bernard Clark (a New Zealander).

The argument went off beautifully and gave birth to the Jessup Competition. Baxter, with my agreement, so named it in honor of Professor Philip Jessup of Columbia Law School. Jessup was a magnificent man, eminent not only as a teacher and scholar but as a diplomat, having served with great success as United States Ambassador-at-Large. He was also among the company of Americans slandered by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Senator McCarthy's slanders notwithstanding, Jessup was nominated for election as a judge of the International Court of Justice in 1960 and served with great distinction. Baxter wrote a discreet note for the American Journal of International Law which bears on the nomination of Jessup for the Court.

In 1960, the second Jessup Competition took place between teams from Harvard and Columbia Law Schools. Thereafter, it spread among other American law schools.

By the time that I was appointed as Executive Director of the American Society of International Law in 1967, the Jessup Competition had spread widely in the United States. Its administration shifted from one law school to another each year, and suffered from instability and poverty.

One of my first initiatives as Executive Director was to put the Jessup Competition on a broader, more solid base. I worked up a foundation application that provided for appointment of a Fellow of the Society whose duties would include establishing a central office for administering the Jessup Competition, and for funds to bring teams from overseas to compete with American teams. The then President of the Society, a senior partner of Sullivan & Cromwell, John Stevenson, quickly approved and almost as quickly produced a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The international Jessup Competition, administered by the first Fellow, Jim Nafziger, was off to the races, and it has been running at high speed ever since. As those who have taken part in it, as advocates and as judges, know, it is a superb teaching tool. It not only teaches the substance and procedures of international law and litigation, but it also demonstrates to the participants that there is more than one side to the issues of international law.

As fate would have it, not only Jessup, but Baxter and I came to serve as judges of the International Court of Justice. That great Court serves as the model for the Jessup Competition...

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