louis henkin 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Louis Henkin, a Columbia Law School professor credited with founding the study
of human rights law and inspiring generations of legal scholars, died on
He was 92.
The youngest of six children, Eliezer Henkin
was born on November 11, 1917, in what is now Belarus. His father was Rabbi
Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, an authority on Halacha.
Henkin fled with his
family six years later as the treatment of Jews there worsened.
principal at his Hebrew school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side had no regard for
Henkin’s nickname, Lazar, and started calling him “Louie.” Louie became Louis,
and, by the time he entered Yeshiva University in 1933, the name had
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 worked with the US Department of State, NATO and
the United Nations.
Between clerkships, Henkin spent four years in the US
Army during World War II.
While serving in an artillery observation unit
during the invasion of France, Henkin and 12 other US soldiers came upon three
Speaking Yiddish to the officers, Henkin paved the way
for negotiations with their commander that ultimately led to the surrender of 75
Germans to the 13 Americans. For his efforts, Henkin was awarded the Silver
Henkin published several books, including Foreign Affairs and the
United States Constitution, The Rights of Man Today, How Nations Behave, and Age
of Rights. He was the chief reporter of the influential Restatement (Third) of
the Foreign Relations Law of the United States.
He served as president of
the American Society of International Law and of the American Society for
Political and Legal Philosophy.
In 1978, Henkin co-founded what is now
the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.
decades later, he launched Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute with
professor Catherine Powell.
“Lou was a towering figure here at the Law
School, and his intellectual and personal contributions were immense,” said
Schizer, dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of
“Lou’s path-breaking work in constitutional and international law
has influenced generations of leading jurists and advocates all over the
A prolific scholar, Henkin’s numerous books, articles and amicus
briefs are cited in hundreds of US federal and state court opinions. In 1993, a
federal appellate judge referred to him as the “preeminent constitutional
scholar in the area of international law.”
Those sentiments were shared
by US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said she was “powerfully
influenced” by Henkin. In a 2006 tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of
Henkin’s affiliation with Columbia University, she called him a “cherished
Henkin is survived by his wife, Alice, who is also a noted human
rights lawyer, and three sons, Joshua, a novelist, David, a professor of
American history at the University of California at Berkeley and Daniel.