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CLS and International Law: Still Leading After All These Years

CLS and International Law: Still Leading After All These Years
By Kate Forristall, Contributing Editor

In his book, The World is Flat, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman examines what he calls the third wave of globalization. It is a trend some law schools find themselves scrambling to accommodate, though not Columbia, which continues to lead the field in international and comparartive law, just as it did in the second wave at the beginning of the past century.

Case in point: In 1906, Law School faculty members helped form the American Society of International Law (ASIL) and its companion periodical, the American Journal of International Law (AJIL). Today, a century later, both are headed by Columbia professors.


Professor Jose Alvarez

José Alvarez, Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and the head of Columbia's Center for Global Legal Problems, assumed the presidency of the ASIL at its annual meeting this past March. Lori Damrosch, the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization and a former vice president of the ASIL, serves as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of International Law (along with University of Miami Law School Professor Bernard H. Oxman '65). She is in the fourth year of a five-year tenure at the helm of the journal.

The ASIL was formed as an outgrowth of the 19th-century American peace movement and was founded on the idea that international arbitration could take the place of the European war system as a way of settling disputes. The AJIL became a forum to discuss and resolve the legal ramifications of the day's international events. Former editors include Professor Louis Henkin and the late Oscar Schachter '39.

"One hundred years later," says Prof. Damrosch, "the journal has 25 regular and 25 honorary editors from around the world."
More than 40 percent of the society's 4,000 members come from outside the United States and, while the admission of women to the ASIL did not occur until 1920, it has elected three female presidents. Prof. Damrosch's lead article in the centennial edition of the journal, "The 'American' and the 'International' in the American Journal of International Law," traced the society's evolution from homogeneity to diversity and inclusion.


Professor Lori Damrosch

Profs. Damrosch and Alvarez came to international law teaching via service at the U.S. State Department, though their personal interest in the field began during their younger years. As a 6-year-old child, Prof. Alvarez fled Cuba on the last ocean liner allowed to leave the country. Believing their homeland would endure only a brief civil war, the family went to Spain and only came to the United States once it was apparent that Castro's rule would be permanent.

"I'm part of a significant tradition in international law, particularly here at Columbia," says Prof. Alvarez. "Many of us, including Lou Henkin, were immigrants. As a stranger to these shores, the desire for understanding in the study of your own laws and those of other countries seems to be prevalent among us."

Prof. Damrosch's journey to international law began as an undergraduate at Yale studying Russian language and literature and the history and politics of the former Soviet bloc. When she entered law school, a thaw in the Cold War opened possibilities for renewal of relationships between the adversaries.

"I wanted to find a way to bridge that gap," she says. "The State Department was an obvious next step to pursue those interests."
Both professors served as legal advisers at the department and in private practice, which gives their students the benefit of real-world practice in international law.

Their experience also provides students similar exposure to timely issues, among them the war in Iraq. A recent AJIL article by William Howard Taft IV, chief lawyer to the U.S. Department of State under Secretary Colin Powell, detailed the government's stance on the Iraq conflict. It was the most complete statement of the U.S. position to date, allowing for more thorough discussions in the critiques that followed, says Prof. Damrosch.

At the annual ASIL meeting in March 2006, Prof. Alvarez participated in a discussion with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Judge Rosalyn Higgins. The topics ranged from the role of foreign and international law in American courts to U.S. influence in countries from Iraq to Russia to Liberia. Prof. Alvarez also urged Secretary Rice to pursue a policy of self-scrutiny on difficult foreign policy issues and, in his first act as president, formed a task force on the professional responsibilities and ethics of international lawyers.

At the same meeting, ASIL members adopted a resolution against torture. It was a rare step for the society, which seldom takes sides on controversial issues. However, both Profs. Alvarez and Damrosch believe that in this circumstance the U.S. position must be clear and unequivocal.

"With this serious set of issues," Prof. Alvarez says, "the credibility of both the United States and the ASIL is at stake. We don't want society members asking, 'Where are they on this issue?' On the other hand, I believe that in cases like this, such a resolution helps government lawyers in our own country fight some of the bureaucratic turf battles they have to deal with every day."

The Law School's influence in the field of international law continues to grow, as evidenced by the hiring in recent years of faculty such as Michael Doyle, the Harold Brown Professor of United States Foreign and Security Policy; Peter Rosenblum '92 LL.M., who heads the School's Human Rights Clinic; and Petros Mavroidis, whose work focuses on the World Trade Organization. Nearly three-quarters of CLS faculty cover some element of international law in their teaching and scholarship.

Columbia has also demonstrated its excellence in the field by the achievements of students. This year, the Jessup Moot Court team, for which Prof. Damrosch serves as adviser, won the School's third world championship, the first by an American team in 16 years. Columbia also fared well during the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court, receiving the most individual honors of any team in the competition. (For more on these and other moot court victories, see p.12).

What does the future hold for both professors? Prof. Alvarez wants to broaden support for the ASIL and to demystify the topic of international law for academics, practitioners, and those who report on it to the public. He also will continue to improve programming for his International Law Workshop and the Center on Global Legal Problems (both of which he founded) to address the fact that only about 25 percent of law students nationally study international law in an era when those laws affect citizens around the world. While his center benefits students, he also sees it as offering New York's international community a neutral setting for frank discussions. Prof. Alvarez will also continue his speaker series, at which Law School faculty discuss their work on international public policy and other issues. He is beginning work on his 2009 Hague Academy Lectures, a top honor for internationalists. At this time, his topic will focus on international foreign investment.

Prof. Damrosch, whose term ends in 2008, plans to publish articles that are closely connected to current policy debates. She is also producing a new casebook (with Prof. Henkin) on Foreign Affairs and the United States Constitution and is launching the next edition of International Law: Cases and Materials (with Henkin, R.C. Pugh, and Professor Hans Smit, to be joined by Sean Murphy '85). It is the leading international law casebook in the country. Her ongoing scholarly research is a broad-ranging comparative constitutional study of war powers in democratic societies, with an emphasis on how parliaments participate in making national military commitments.