On April 21, 2015, international lawyer and professor of law Mary Ellen O’Connell authored the following response to Philip Alston’s essay, “Harold Koh and the Battle of the Dueling Petitions”:
I very much appreciated Professor Alston’s comment on the controversy at NYU over the appointment of Harold Koh as a distinguished professor of human rights. Prof. Alston’s final observation is especially apposite: “When students seek to speak “truth to power” the appropriate response is … to engage on the merits of the “truths” they claim to put forward.” The concerned students organized an impressive opportunity for engagement last evening at the law school. I was invited to explain the law prohibiting targeted killing with military force beyond armed conflict zones—the issue at the heart of their concerns. Despite ample advance notice, no critic of the student letter came to defend Professor Koh’s public position that such killing is lawful. Nevertheless, we had a rich discussion not only on international law, morality, and security, but, more importantly, on how movements can transform a nation, recalling student initiated movements against the Vietnam War and racial segregation in the United States. I left with renewed admiration for the law students of NYU and the organizers of the event in particular.
Mary Ellen O’Connell
Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law
University of Notre Dame
Senior Fellow, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton (2014-2015)