Louis Henkin.

Author:Damrosch, Lori Fisler
Position:Former American Society of International Law president and professor - Proceedings of the One Hundred Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law - Testimonial


It was at the Society's Annual Meeting 30 years ago that I had my first face-to-face conversation with Louis Henkin. He reached out to me then, as I know he reached out to many others here, of different generations, over the half-century that he was a leader in this Society and in the teaching and practice of international law. On Monday, March 28, we will commemorate Lou's life and work with a celebration at Columbia Law School. I hope that many of you can join us for the memorial at 4:00 and a panel discussion at 6:30.

The April 2011 issue of the American Journal of International Law will also carry a tribute to our former editor in chief and former president of this Society, with an assessment of his lifetime of scholarship and activism in support of the rule of law in international politics and U.S. foreign relations. In the forthcoming tribute in the Journal, I try to express in brief compass, but in more depth than is possible here, something of the significance of Lou's scholarship and the influence of his ideas on the world. Tonight, with thanks to the Henkin family, Columbia Law School, and ASIL, we have a few slides to show to recall some aspects of his remarkable life.

Henkin was born on November 11, 1917, in what is now Belarus. The family arrived at Ellis Island in 1923. Lou spoke Yiddish at home, studied in Hebrew at school, and learned English on the streets of New York. He majored in mathematics at Yeshiva University and applied to Harvard Law School on a whim, receiving his law degree in 1940.

In front of an audience which includes so many professors and students of international law, I have to disclose something that is not a secret. In fact, it is a shared truth about Lou Henkin and others of his generation who shaped the postwar world of international law in the United States, including his friend and colleague from Harvard, Abram Chayes, and his friend and colleague at Columbia, Oscar Schachter: Lou never took a course in international law. He took the usual domestic subjects, including constitutional law, and did well enough to land a clerkship with Judge Learned Hand of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for the 1940-1941 academic year. Judge Hand then secured him a place as a law clerk for Justice Felix Frankfurter on the U.S. Supreme Court. But before Lou could get to the Supreme Court, he was drafted and sent to boot camp in the summer of 1941.


When the United States entered...

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