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Thomas M. Franck: In Memoriam



It with great sadness that we learned that Thomas M. Franck, one of the world’s leading scholars of international and national security law, passed away earlier this week. Lucy Reed, the President of the American Society of International Law sent out this note on Thursday:

Dear ASIL Colleagues,

I am very sorry to share with you the news that ASIL Honorary President Thomas M. Franck passed away yesterday, having recently suffered a resurgence of cancer. I am happy and proud also to share with you that he was participating – with characteristic rigor – in a conference only a few weeks ago. I expect all will be comforted to learn that he died peacefully in his home, surrounded by friends and family.

Professor Franck served the Society as President from 1998 to 2000 and Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of International Law from 1984 to 1993, as well as being our Honorary President since March. The author of more than 30 books and countless articles, he received our lifetime achievement award, the Hudson Medal, in 2003, and he was awarded the ASIL Certificate of Merit for four of his books.

This list does not do him justice. What we will most remember is Tom’s entering and quickly commanding a room with his unique mix of intelligence, creativity, irreverence, grace, and humor – not to mention that bow tie. He was a tireless mentor, generous colleague, and intellectual beacon to so many of us. We will miss him sorely.

Although he would have scoffed at the idea, we will find a way to honor his life and work in the months to come. In the meantime, we have assembled a collection of some of his writings published by the Society, as well as the recording of his last panel presentation before us, on “In What Sense is International Law Law,” just two months ago at the 2009 Annual Meeting. Click here to savor a tiny fraction of our Honorary President’s legacy to the Society, and please come back to this page for updates, as they become available.

With warm regards,

Lucy F. Reed

Tom Franck was truly a legend. I think Lucy captures his personality quite well.

I first met Tom Franck in 1982 while I was a student at the University of Virginia and was honored to have interacted with him a number of times over the years. Indeed, Georgetown University was especially honored when Tom delivered the William V. O’Brien Lecture in International Law and Morality on September 22, 1995 on Tribe, Nation, and World: Self-Identification in the Evolving World Community.

It is indeed impossible to sumarize his immense contribution to scholarship in a few lines, but I would recommend two of his 30+ books as particularly meaningful– The Power of Legitimacy Among Nations and Fairness in International Law and Institutions.

One of the most controversial articles that Tom wrote appeared in 1970 in the American Journal of International Law. Entitled “Who Killed Article 2(4)? Or Changing Norms Governing the Use of Force By States,” this article presented the case that the fundamental provision of the United Nations Charter relating to the recourse to force might not be reflective of customary international law. At one point in the article, he worried that :

The practice of these states has so severely shattered the mutual confidence which would have been the sine qua non of an operative rule of law embodying the precepts of Article 2(4) that, as with Ozymandias, only the words remain.

While over the years, Franck’s views on the status of Article 2(4) may have undergone some change, his article was an important challenge to all international legal scholars to look to state practice as the correct indicator of custom. In today’s world of legal scholarship, where it is often too easy to cite a putative rule of international law without asking whether that would-be rule is reflected in the actual practice of states, Tom Franck’s challenge should be our standard.

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We will miss Tom Franck in so many ways.

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The American Society of International Law has a tribute at this site. The site also provides a list of several of his statements and writings that are available online:

A Selection of Statements and Writings for ASIL by Professor Franck

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.