Leader in the Field of Human Rights Law Had Cardozo and YU Ties
Louis Henkin, a professor at Columbia Law School with strong ties to the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Yeshiva University, died on Thursday, October 14. The youngest of six children, Henkin was born on November 11, 1917, in what is now Belarus. His father was Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, an authority on Halacha.
Henkin was a 1937 graduate of Yeshiva College and a class of 1940 LL.B. graduate of Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and was an original member of the Cardozo Board, joining in 1977. He became an honorary board member in 1990.
Henkin was a towering presence in international law, an influential pioneer in the field of human rights law and served on the advisory board of Cardozo’s Holocaust and Human Rights Studies Program. Louis Henkin was a former president of the American Society of International Law and of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy and University Professor emeritus at Columbia Law School. He was chairman of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Additionally, he was widely considered one of the most influential contemporary scholars of international law and U.S. foreign relations.
Rabbi Yona Reiss, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, recalled meeting with Henkin at a mincha minyan held in Henkin’s Columbia University office. At the time, Rabbi Reiss was serving as the director of the Beth Din of America. ”We spoke about my work at the Beth Din and he expressed admiration for the important endeavor of creating written rules of procedure and streamlined arbitration processes for the professional administration of cases brought before the rabbinical court. Professor Henkin came across as a kind, thoughtful and humble man.
“His father was one of the major poskim of the 20th century,” added Rabbi Reiss. “His decisions were vital in dealing with issues confronted by the American Jewish community with respect to a host of contemporary issues, including the effect of civil marriage and civil divorce on the Jewish legal system.”
Prof. David Rudenstine, former Cardozo dean, said “Lou always had a remarkably touching soft spot for this law school. He always inquired about the school when we met and he was always interested in its latest developments. I could always feel the warmth of his concern and the pleasure of his delight as he soaked in whatever news there was. Lou, along with others, gave this law school rare and indelible gifts of character.”
In 1962, Louis Henkin joined the Columbia Law School faculty and the faculty of the department of political science in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and SIPA. He was named Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, and later, Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law. Henkin was chair of the directorate of the Columbia University Center for the Study of Human Rights, and founding chair and director of the Law School’s Institute of Human Rights. In his honor, Columbia Law School established the Louis Henkin Professorship in Human Rights. Henkin was a consultant to the United Nations Legal Department in 1945. He then served with the Department of State from 1948 to 1956 in the UN Bureau and in the Office of European Regional Affairs (NATO). He represented the U.S. on the committee drafting the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and was part of the U.S. delegations to the UN and to international conferences.
He is survived by his wife, Alice, and their three sons, Joshua, David and Daniel, and his grandchildren.
See obituary in The New York Times and The Jerusalem Post.