Setting the Bar

Leading the Way

Lori Fisler Damrosch

Professor Lori Fisler Damrosch seeks to engage a new generation of international law scholars

By Joy Y. Wang

Fall 2013

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This past January, Professor Lori Fisler Damrosch traveled to Columbia’s Global Center in Amman, Jordan. The expert in international law returned from the trip with an impressive plan in mind. Damrosch envisioned a major conference at the center that would bring together teachers, students, and practitioners of international law in the Middle East. She foresees experts analyzing crucial and timely topics, including how international law affects countries undergoing profound political transformation.

The idea took on a new dimension this spring when the American Society of International Law (ASIL) named Damrosch its president-elect. The yearlong position will be followed by a two-year term as the organization’s president, and the conference, which will likely be held in 2015, will now also serve as one highlight of that time.

“I proposed taking advantage of Columbia University’s network of Global Centers as a platform for cooperative activities between ASIL and partners in one or more of the areas where Columbia already has a presence,” says Damrosch, the Law School’s Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, and the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization. “The Middle East presents significant opportunities for developing relationships in the field of international law.”

Damrosch is particularly well positioned to understand the complex legal relationships at play in that region of the world. During the Carter administration, she served in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. State Department, working on many legal aspects of the crisis involving more than 50 U.S. diplomatic and consular staff held hostage in Iran until January 20, 1981. (The film Argo depicts an incident that occurred while the hostage crisis was in progress.) Her efforts during that time contributed to the creation of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, a groundbreaking international arbitral organization.

Now, as the next head of the ASIL, Damrosch aims to support and engage a new generation of international law scholars who can one day lead the way in resolving global crises.

“I would like the ASIL to sponsor curriculum development in international law at the undergraduate level,” Damrosch says. “Many undergraduates are interested in international affairs, and many are interested in law, but as of now, very few colleges offer courses to draw these interests together.” As a starting point for this new effort, she will call on the help of Columbia Law School graduates throughout the world who are currently teaching and practicing international law.

Even amid her new responsibilities, Damrosch remains engaged in legal scholarship on multiple fronts. Her most recent work focuses on how constitutional democracies control decisions to use military force, and how those decisions relate to international law. She has also spent the past 10 years serving as the co-editor-in-chief of the American Journal of International Law, the ASIL’s quarterly publication that dates back to 1907.

As the forthcoming president of the organization, Damrosch joins the ranks of nearly a dozen Columbia Law School graduates and faculty members who have held the office—past ASIL presidents include two of her mentors, Oscar Schachter ’39 and John Reese Stevenson ’49. (Damrosch worked with Stevenson at Sullivan & Cromwell after her time at the State Department, and he encouraged her to join the faculty at the Law School.) She also takes over a position once held by beloved Columbia Law School professor, and founding scholar of human rights law, Louis Henkin.

“I hope that my time as ASIL’s president will lay the groundwork to cultivate interest in international law among the generation coming of age in a globalized world,” Damrosch says.

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Illustration by Jonathan Evans