Henkin, Louis.

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Louis Henkin was born Eliezer Henkin on November 11, 1917. Born in what is today Belarus, Henkin emigrated with his family to New York City's Lower East Side in 1923. He graduated from Yeshiva College in 1937 with a degree in mathematics and, on a whim, applied to Harvard Law School. He served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduated in 1940, and then clerked for Judge Learned Hand, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Although interrupted by his four years in the U.S. Army, his clerkship with Judge Hand led to a clerkship on the Supreme Court, for Justice Felix Frankfurter. While in the Army with the First Field Artillery Observation Battalion, Henkin was deployed to Europe, serving in France, Germany, Italy, and northern Africa. In 1944, Henkin used his native Yiddish to convince a German colonel to surrender his company, earning a Silver Star for gallantry in action. Henkin's wartime service inspired his interests in international affairs and foreign relations, and after his clerkship for Justice Frankfurter ended in 1947, Henkin spent eight years at the Department of State. There he worked for the United Nations Bureau and NATO, focusing on constitutional law and foreign affairs, and helping to draft the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Henkin began his long career at Columbia University in 1956 as the Associate Director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund, leading to his first book, Arms Control and Inspection in American Law . In 1958, he began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, his first faculty position. He married Alice Hartman Henkin, another major figure in international human rights law, in 1960. In 1962 Henkin joined the faculty of Columbia Law School, where he remained until his death in 2010. Henkin's teaching interests were diverse and interdisciplinary, focusing on constitutional law, foreign relations, human rights, international law, and the law of the sea. He developed and fostered significant human rights curricula and scholarship at Columbia University, founding the University's Center for the Study of Human Rights in 1978 and Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute in 1998. In 1999, the law school established the Louis Henkin Professorship in Constitutional and Human Rights.

Outside of Columbia, Henkin was active on a number of advisory committees, particularly in the field of human rights law. He served on the Permanent Court of Arbitration from 1963-1969, as an adviser on the Law of the Sea (1973-1980), and spent three terms on the Advisory Committee on International Law. Henkin founded the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First) in 1978 and served on its Board. He was also Chief Reporter for the American Law Institute's influential Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, published in 1987. He was appointed to the United Nation's Human Rights Committee in 1999 and served through 2002. Henkin was also a prolific scholar. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Institut de Droit International, and served as president and editor-in-chief of the American Society of International Law. He wrote over a dozen books, including How Nations Behave and Foreign Affairs and the Constitution, and edited another ten, including Human Rights, a central academic textbook. Henkin was active into his nineties, writing an amicus brief in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) that was quoted in the Supreme Court's decision, and continuing to lecture. He died at his home in New York City on October 14, 2010, at the age of 92.


Grimes, William. "Louis Henkin, Leader in Field of Human Rights Law, Dies at 92." New York Times, 16 October 2010.

Interview of Louis Henkin by Don Anton, 1996.

Von Gutfeld, Sonia. "A Tribute: Columbia Celebrates the Human Rights Legacy of Louis Henkin." 2006.

From the guide to the Louis Henkin Papers, 1940-2007, [Bulk Dates: 1980-2005], (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Andreĭ Sakharov papers, 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Hand, Learned, 1872-1961. Papers, 1840-1961 Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Andreĭ Sakharov papers, 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Hart, Henry Melvin, 1904-1969. Papers, 1927-1969 Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Research materials on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1910-1972 Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Leach, Walter Barton. W. Barton Leach Papers. 1920-1971. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Freund, Paul A. Paul A. Freund papers. 1918-1993. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Louis Henkin Papers, 1940-2007, [Bulk Dates: 1980-2005] Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Howe, Mark De Wolfe. Mark De Wolfe Howe papers. 1933-1967. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Law Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Aspen Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Cassese, Antonio. person
associatedWith Columbia University. corporateBody
associatedWith Damrosch, Lori F. (Lori Fisler) person
associatedWith Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. person
correspondedWith Hand, Learned, 1872-1961 person
correspondedWith Hart, Henry Melvin. person
associatedWith Henkin, Alice H. person
associatedWith Herbert Packer person
associatedWith Howe, Mark De Wolfe, 1906-1967 person
associatedWith Human Rights First (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Human Rights Institute (Columbia University. School of Law) corporateBody
associatedWith Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Leach, W. Barton (Walter Barton), 1900- person
associatedWith Michael Smith person
associatedWith Paul A. Freund person
associatedWith Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989 person
associatedWith Schachter, Oscar, 1915-2003 person
associatedWith United Nations. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Constitutional law


Birth 1917-11-11

Death 2010-10-14




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