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Abram Chayes, 77
Leading International Law Specialist,
Kennedy Administration's Chief International Lawyer,
and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus


April 16, 2000


Herbert F. York
Abram Chayes

EDITOR'S NOTE: A strong supporter of Pugwash for 30 years, Professor Abram Chayes attended his first Pugwash workshop in 1970 in Racine, Wisconsin on the subject of the Impact of New Technologies on the Arms Race.  Professor Chayes attended more than a dozen Pugwash meetings in all, and was for many years a member of the steering committee of the US Pugwash Group at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

INTERNATIONAL Law Professor Abram Chayes, 77, who served as the Kennedy Administration's chief international lawyer at the height of the Cold War and who taught at Harvard Law School for over four decades, died on Sunday, April 16 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Abram Chayes was one of the dominant figures in international law teaching and scholarship over the last third of a century," said HLS Dean Robert C. Clark. "Boundless energy, intellectual brilliance and commitment to students characterized his career as a teacher."

"Abram Chayes devoted his career to building and sustaining an effective international legal order from arms control to conflict prevention," said HLS Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter. (Slaughter tribute to Professor Chayes.)

Said HLS Professor Philip Heymann: "For Abe problems were there to give joy to the people who tackled them. Over the years teams of wonderful people would work under his tutilage. His subjects were as broad as human problems: the legal aspects of the Cuban missile crisis; the changing role of courts in massive litigation; innovations in legal education from new ways to teach corporations to new understandings of international law to a unified vision of first-year legal education; pressing the legal case against our secret mining of Nicaragua's harbors during the Sandinista period; and exploring how the UN could engage in peacemaking and peacekeeping in the most troubled areas of the world. These are wildly different subjects. In his ability to bring his art to new forms, he was our Picasso. In his ability to convey energy, he was our Michael Jordan. He made you want to be a lawyer for the sheer joy of creating new forms to tackle human problems. He was an electric current that you could always plug yourself i nto if the batteries of your enthusiasm were dying down."

Chayes was born on July 18, 1922 in Chicago.

He received his A.B. magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard in 1943.

Upon graduation, he joined the war effort. From 1943 to 1946 Chayes served with the Field Artillery in France, Holland, Germany and Japan. He was discharged with the rank of captain and returned to Harvard.

He and Antonia Handler were were married on December 24, l947.

He received his LL.B. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1949. He served as note editor and then president of the Harvard Law Review. Chayes received the Sears Prize, awarded to the top two students in the first- and second-year classes, and the Fay Diploma, awarded to the student with the highest overall average during the three years of study.

After law school, Chayes served as Legal Advisor to Governor Chester Bowles of Connecticut from 1949 to 1951. He then went to Washington, D.C., serving as Associate General Counsel of the President's Materials Policy Commission in 1951, as a clerk for Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1951 to 1952, and as an Associate with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., from 1952 to 1955.

He returned to Cambridge in 1955 to join the Law School faculty as Assistant Professor, becoming Professor of Law in 1958.

Professor Chayes was one of the initial group of Harvard faculty members who worked in the late l950s on President Kennedy's campaign. He was the head staff person and lead draftsman of the l960 Democratic Convention platform, and during the fall of 1960 was one of the principal issues advisers to the Kennedy campaign.

In 1961, Chayes joined President Kennedy's New Frontier, serving as Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State. During the Kennedy Administration, he played a major role in the development of the United States' position in the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of l963 (which banned atmospheric nuclear tests), and the establishment of Comsat (the Communications Satellite system) during the Kennedy Administration. He authored a book on the Cuban crisis in l974: The Cuban Missile Crisis, International Crisis and the Role of Law (Oxford University Press l974; second edition, l987).

He argued several cases in United States Supreme Court and the World Court-both during and after his service in the Kennedy Administration's State Department.

In 1964, he went to the law firm of Ginsburg & Feldman in Washington, D.C., before coming back to the Law School in 1965. In 1976 he became the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, and in 1993 he became the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus.

After Professor Chayes returned to Harvard Law School, he continued his work in international affairs. He was a foreign policy adviser to the l968 Presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. During the l969-l972 period, Professor Chayes authored several articles on nuclear arms control and co-authored a book with Jerome Wiesner, President Kennedy's Science Adviser, on Anti-Ballistic Missiles and strategic policy. Professor Chayes advised Democratic members of the Senate in the debate in the early l970s over ABM deployment and was a strong supporter of the ABM Treaty of l972 that imposed stringent limitations on anti-missile development and deployment by the United States and Soviet Union.

In l972, Professor Chayes was one of the principal foreign policy advisers to the Presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern, and l976, was a foreign policy adviser to the Presidential campaign of Governor Jimmy Carter.

During the late l960s and l970s, Professor Chayes developed a new international law course at Harvard and co-authored a widely used book, International Legal Process. He also taught civil procedure and authored a widely cited article in the Harvard Law Review on the remedial powers of the judiciary and the courts' capacity to deal with difficult domestic social issues.

In the l980s, Professor Chayes continued to spend considerable time on international law issues, ranging from Cold War questions to environmental and communications matters. After the disclosure of the mining of Nicaragua's harbors by the United States, which raised significant international law questions, Professor Chayes argued on behalf of the Government of Nicaragua in its case against the United States in the World Court, which ruled that the mining violated international law. During the same period, Professor Chayes also wrote several articles on the question whether the Reagan Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was permissible under the l972 ABM Treaty; Professor Chayes believed that both testing and deployment were barred by the treaty.

In April 1999, Professor Chayes became of counsel to McDermott, Will & Emery where he continued his practice in international law. At McDermott, he led the team of lawyers suing Slobodon Milosevic in the US Courts for genocide in Kosovo. From September 1999 through February 2000, he served as a member of the Commission of International Legal Experts appointed by the Prime Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina to investigate and make recommendations to fight corruption in Bosnia.

Throughout the l990s and up to his final illness, Professor Chayes remained active, continuing to teach at Harvard Law School, co-authoring several books with his wife, Antonia Handler Chayes, the former Under Secretary of the Air Force in the Carter Administration, and authoring numerous articles on conflict management in the former East Bloc, international peace keeping, and on compliance with international treaties. His publications include: The International Legal Process (Little, Brown, 1968, 1969) (with T. Ehrlich and A. Lowenfeld), and The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements (Harvard University Press, 1996 and 1998) with Antonia Handler Chayes. Bibliography.

He was a member of the Steering Committee of the Program on Negotiation, and Co-Director of PON's Project on International Compliance and Dispute Settlement. He continued his work on international environmental law, teaching and serving on the Harvard interdisciplinary group on climate change.

He was the Coordinator for the "media chapter" of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders from October 1967 to March 1968. He was a member of the Nuclear Energy Policy Study from 1976 to 1977. Chayes was Trustee for the World Peace Foundation in 1977. He served on the Advisory Board for the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control. He was Chairman of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, and he has also been Vice President of the Albert Einstein Peace Prize Foundation.

From 1985 to 1986 he was a Visiting Scholar through the Kistiakowsky Visiting Scholar Program with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1985 he was a Rubin Fellow at Columbia Law School.

Chayes was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a life member of the American Law Institute, and a member of the American Society of International Law.

He taught, among others, the courses International Law, Civil Procedure, International Environmental Law and Institutions, International Peacekeeping, and Introduction to American Law.

In 1999 he received the Harvard Law School Association Award (HLSA). The HLSA Award, the highest honor given by the Association, recognizes sustained or extraordinary service to the legal profession and Harvard Law School as well as contributions to the public welfare that exemplify the values of Harvard Law School. He received the award for his service as an "inspirational teacher and distinguished scholar, advocate for the rights of sovereign nations and the protection of the global environment, [and] beloved mentor to generations of Harvard Law students." The Law School celebrated his career with two days of panels and events concerning issues in international law on April 23-24, 1999.

He received the LL.D. in 1987 from Syracuse University College of Law. In 1996 he received the Peace Advocacy Award, with his wife, Antonia Handler Chayes, from the Massachusetts chapter of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

He leaves a wife, Antonia Handler of Cambridge, MA and Canaan, NY; five children, Eve Chayes Lyman of Los Angeles and Baja California, Mexico, Gail Chayes Lyman of Los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico, Kansas, and Roxbury, Massachusetts, Sarah Chayes, European Correspondent, National Public Radio, of Paris, France, Lincoln Chayes, Professor of Mathematical Physics, UCLA, of Los Angeles, and Angelica Chayes Swenson of Canaan, New York; a sister, Judith Nieman of Baltimore; and eight grandchildren.

Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at Harvard University at a later date.