December 1, 2012
Arthur Chaskalson, a longtime Columbia Law School visiting professor, was an international champion of human rights and the first president of the South African Constitutional Court. He passed away on December 1, 2012, at the age of 81.
Chaskalson was born on November 24, 1931, in Johannesburg. He earned his law degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1954, and in 1963 he was chosen to be part of a defense team representing Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress who had been charged with sabotage. The defendants were found guilty, but they did not receive the death penalty, and following the trial, Chaskalson established himself as one of the most successful barristers in South Africa.
Soon after, Chaskalson met Columbia Law School Professor Jack Greenberg ’48, who was then serving as director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Inspired by the work of the LDF, Chaskalson left his law practice in the late 1970s to help create the Legal Resources Centre, a law firm focused on ending apartheid through legal methods. A few years later, Greenberg invited Chaskalson to spend a year at the Law School as a visiting professor. He taught numerous courses and seminars, including Legal Responses to Apartheid.
In the early ’90s, Chaskalson served as one of the principal draftsmen of the new South African constitution. In 1994, Mandela won the South African presidency and appointed Chaskalson president of the newly created Constitutional Court.
Chaskalson presided over a number of landmark equality cases, fostering a more just society and building foundations for a democratic South Africa. After 10 years on the court, he retired as chief justice of South Africa but continued to serve on a number of international human rights commissions and courts.
Chaskalson again joined the Law School faculty in 2004, co-teaching a course on comparative constitutionalism. His enduring relationship with Columbia Law School helped ensure that Law School students received the opportunity to work as interns at the Legal Resources Centre for decades.
Chaskalson is survived by his wife, Dr. Lorraine Chaskalson; his two sons, Matthew and Jerome; and several grandchildren.