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Detlev F. Vagts (1929–2013)

  • Peter D. Trooboff


In August we learned of the passing of Detlev Vagts, our colleague, mentor, and friend, and this Journal’s co-editor in chief from 1993 to 1998 with Judge Theodor Meron. Fortunately, Vagts lived to hear not only praise for his life devoted to scholarship, teaching, and academic administration at the Harvard Law School but also expressions of gratitude for his service to his country and to this Journal. In addition, his former students honored him during his lifetime with a Festschrift of insightful essays, providing a complete list of his publications and valuable perspectives on his career.



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1 Making Transnational Law Work in the Global Economy: Essays in Honour of Detlev Vagts (Pieter H. F. Bekker, Rudolf Dolzer & Michael Waibel eds., 2010) (reviewed by Peter D. Trooboff at 106 AJIL 215 (2012)).

2 Beard, Charles A. & Vagts, Alfred, Currents of Thought in Historiography, 42 Am. Hist. Rev. 460 (1937).

3 Vagts, Alfred & Vagts, Detlev F., The Balance of Power in International Law: A History of an Idea, 73 AJIL 555, 555 (1979).

4 Beard, William & Vagts, Detlev F., Charles A. Beard’s the Presidents in American History: George Washington to George Bush (rev. ed. 1989) (with preface explaining the family’s editing, including the 1981 revision by his mother and uncle of their father’s work).

5 Henry J. Steiner, Constructing and Developing Transnational Law: The Contribution of Detlev Vagts, in Making Transnational Law Work, supra note 1, at 11.

6 Harold Hongju Koh, Foreword: The Transnationalism of Detlev Vagts, in id. at xvi.

7 Pieter H. F. Bekker, Rudolf Dolzer & Michael Waibel, Introduction: A Festschrift to Celebrate Detlev Vagts’ Contributions to Transnational Law, in id. at 6.

8 Detlev Vagts, Ground Between the Wheels: Political Threats to Overseas Scholars, 32 Fletcher F. Worldaff., Winter 2008, at 181.

9 Id.

10 Id. at 182–83.

11 Id. at 187.

12 See, for example, Vagts’s entries on balance of power and national socialism and international law in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law as well as his publications in German or about German scholars cited in the Festschrift. See Bibliography of Detlev Vagts, in Making Transnational Law Work, supra note 1, at 655– 61. In addition, in 1991, along with Werner F. Ebke, Vagts received the Max Planck Research Award for outstanding international research achievements.

13 Vagts, Detlev F., International Law in the Third Reich, 84 AJIL 661 (1990).

14 Trooboff, Peter D., Book Review, 106 AJIL 215, 216–17 (2012).

15 United States v. Stuart, 489 U.S. 353, 375–76 (Scalia, J., concurring).

16 Vagts, Detlev F., Senate Materials and Treaty Interpretation: Some Research Hints for the Supreme Court, 83 AJIL 546, 550 (1989).

17 Abramovsky, Abraham & Eagle, Steven J., A Critical Evaluation of the Mexican-American Transfer of Penal Sanctions Treaty, 64 Iowa L. Rev. 275 (1979).

18 Vagts, Detlev F., A Reply to “A Critical Evaluation of the Mexican-American Transfer of Penal Sanctions Treaty, “ 64 Iowa L. Rev. 325, 325 (1979).

19 See, e.g., id. at 325 n.5 (references to congressional testimony and analyses by Vagts and other leading scholars); Note, Constitutional Problems in the Execution of Foreign Penal Sentences: The Mexican-American Prisoner Transfer Treaty, 90 Harv. L. Rev. 1500, 1502 (1977) (advocating that, as a condition to the authorized transfer, the prisoner waive claims based on possible constitutional objections to the local practices or procedures leading to conviction).

20 Vagts, Detlev F., The Logan Act: Paper Tiger or Sleeping Giant?, 60 AJIL 268, 300 (1966) (concluding that on constitutional and policy grounds a legislative reexamination of the statute was essential to allow “[a] political determination... as to what restraints [on U.S. citizen communications with foreign governments] are actually necessary”).

21 Vagts, Detlev F., The International Legal Profession: A Need for More Governance?, 90 AJIL 250, 261 (1996) (suggesting that our profession needed to “expend some intellectual energies in grappling” with the “problems and uncertainties” that he had shown existed concerning the rules and requirements for judges, arbitrators, and counsel in international litigation).

22 See, e.g., Vagts, Detlev F., Professional Responsibility in Transborder Practice: Conflict and Resolution, 13 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 677 (2000).

23 William W. Park, The Borders of Bias: Rectitude in International Arbitration, in Making Transnational Law Work, supra note 1, at 577 (explaining how professional rectitude found its way into the “scholarly territories where Detlev has left his intellectual footprint”).

24 Catherine A. Rogers, Cross-Border Bankruptcy as a Model for the Regulation of International Attorneys, in id. at 630.

25 Vagts, Detlev F., Guide to Baxter’s Scholarship on Humanitarian Law, in Humanizing the Laws of War: Selected Writings of Richard Baxter 4 (Vagts, Detlev F., Meron, Theodor, Schwebel, Stephen M. & Keever, Charles eds., 2013); see also Stephen M. Schwebel, A Biography of Richard Baxter, in id. at 1–3 (a graceful account of Baxter’s career and influence).

26 Vagts, supra note 25, at 5.

27 Id. at 6.

28 Detlev F. Vagts, Treaties and Translation: A Guide for the Non-Linguist (2013) (unpublished draft manuscript) (on file with author) (includes two interesting cases in which issues depended on treaty translation in relation to claims against German industrial firms that employed slave or forced labor during World War II (London Agreement on German External Debts) and in relation to the transfer by the United States to a third country of non-nationals who were captured in Iraq (Fourth Geneva Convention)).

* Senior Counsel, Covington & Burling LLP.

Detlev F. Vagts (1929–2013)

  • Peter D. Trooboff


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