Louis Henkin, a son of immigrant parents who taught and wrote about law in the United States for decades, and helped create the field of human rights law, died Oct. 14 in his Manhattan home after a long illness. He was 92.
An emeritus law professor at Columbia University, Mr. Henkin served as mentor to generations of legal scholars, including Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Born in present-day Belarus, he came with his family at six to the U.S., settling on the Lower East Side. His father, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, was an expert on Jewish law. Mr. Henkin grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household, learning English by writing his father’s letters to rabbinical scholars.
A graduate of Yeshiva College and Harvard Law School, Mr. Henkin served as a clerk to Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter. Since justices would hold their conference on Saturdays, Mr. Henkin would sleep on Frankfurter’s couch Friday nights, and refrain from writing, to keep from desecrating the Sabbath.
As a soldier inWorld War II, he arranged the surrender of 75 German soldiers by negotiating, in Yiddish, with a group of officers.
After working for the State Department’s Office of Regional Affairs, a predecessor to NATO, he joined the Columbia faculty. “I had often thought I’d be an academic because being an academic is in my blood,” he said in a 2008 interview. At Columbia, he co-founded what is now the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and co-edited human rights and international law casebooks that are still in use.