Columbia Law School’s Class of 2008 is uniquely entwined with the history of the school as the class that will have graduated in the Law School’s 150th anniversary year.
The Sesquicentennial has already been marked by several events, and the celebration will continue into the fall of 2008 with events in London and New York.
“It is worth reflecting on how central our Law School has been in grappling with the great issues of our time,” said Dean David M. Schizer. “We are proud of our tradition of engagement with these questions, and this tradition continues today. We celebrate not only what our Law School has achieved in the past 150 years, but what we will achieve in the next 150 years and beyond.”
The Sesquicentennial began in January with events in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing that also marked the 25th anniversary of the Law School’s Center for Chinese Legal Studies. Dean Schizer then attended a Tokyo reception to celebrate the Law School’s long-standing leadership in Japanese law, embodied by The Center for Japanese Legal Studies, founded in 1980.
The celebration shifted back to New York on Jan. 25 for the 59th annual Winter Luncheon for alumni in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf =Astoria Hotel. The event honored living former deans, alumni who are serving as judges, and alumnus H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest ’58, who has a notable career as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Lenfest, a Columbia University Trustee, has also played a leadership role at the Law School through his generosity and service as a Dean’s Council member. Lenfest’s Class of 1958 is being honored during this year’s graduation to mark its 50th reunion year.
On Jan. 31, 2008, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hosted a black-tie alumni dinner to celebrate the Law School’s Sesquicentennial. The attendees dined amid the Italian marble columns of the Great Hall in the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
Justice Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, and later became its first tenured female professor. “Legal education is a ‘shared adventure’ for students, teachers and alumni,” she said. “For all of my days, I expect to take part in that adventure and to see it flourish at Columbia Law School.”
Dean Schizer clerked for Justice Ginsburg from 1994 to 1995, and fondly recalled working with her at the Supreme Court. “The Justice sets a very special tone in chambers that combines intellectual rigor with personal warmth,” Schizer said. “It is a tone that I have tried to emulate with my students.”
Over the past 150 years, hundreds of Columbia Law School alumni have gone on to serve as judges at every level of the state and federal systems; six became U.S. Supreme Court justices. That service continues to this day, with more than 300 alumni currently serving as judges across the country and around the world.
To honor the long history of Columbia alumni serving at all levels of the judiciary, more than 50 alumni who are judges celebrated their connection to Columbia Law School at a dinner at the Morgan Library & Museum on Feb. 28. The celebration began with a cocktail reception in J.P. Morgan’s library and study. The dinner was held in the recently constructed Gilbert Court, part of the museum’s 2006 expansion designed by architect Renzo Piano.
Professor Thomas W. Merrill gave the keynote address, highlighting Columbia University’s close relationship with the judiciary, starting with James Kent, hired in 1793 as the first professor of law at the university, well before the Law School itself was founded. In 1798, Gov. John Jay named Kent to the New York Supreme Court.
Merrill’s speech also explored the influence of Columbia Law School alumni who played oversized roles as judges in their time, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Charles Evans Hughes, Benjamin Cardozo and Harlan Fiske Stone.
The Sesquicentennial continues this fall, with reunion events Oct. 17–19 in London to underscore the Law School’s global reach and focus, including a welcoming reception at the historic Spencer House and an academic program focusing on international legal issues at the Hotel Intercontinental. The event will end with a gala at the Banqueting House, a historic royal palace designed by Inigo Jones.
The Sesquicentennial concludes Oct. 25 with a dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York and a program to highlight the school’s history, its impact on the legal profession domestically and globally, its current mission and its future goals. Justice Ginsburg is scheduled to attend.