Campus & Community

Story Professor of Law Arthur von Mehren dies at 83

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Arthur Taylor von Mehren, the Story Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School (HLS), died Jan. 18 at the age of 83.

In addition to educating thousands of Harvard Law students over the course of a 50-year teaching career, von Mehren was a pioneer in comparative and private international law. He helped to develop new thinking on a range of legal issues including international jurisdictions, commercial arbitration, and comparative constitutional law.

“All of us in legal education owe a debt of gratitude to Arthur von Mehren, who was a trailblazer in his field,” said HLS Dean Elena Kagan. “At a time when law schools are increasing their focus on comparative and international law, Arthur’s contributions have provided us with a strong and enduring foundation.”

“Arthur von Mehren was a towering figure in the fields of international jurisdiction, choice of laws, comparative law, and international commercial arbitration,” said Peter Murray, the Robert Braucher Visiting Professor of Law from Practice, who organized a symposium honoring von Mehren’s career in September 2002. At the two-day event, von Mehren was presented with “Law and Justice in a Multistate World,” a collection of more than 54 articles and essays written by leading academics. Said Murray, “He was one of the last of a generation of legal scholars trained in the immediate aftermath of World War II. His work spanned a time in which Europe arose from the ashes of that conflict to create a new legal and political order, which is still evolving.”

During his remarkable career, von Mehren studied law in three countries, taught in nine, and authored more than 200 publications, including 10 books. Murray noted that von Mehren maintained a demanding teaching and research regimen up until the point of his death. His work comparing German and American civil procedure has remained definitive for nearly 50 years.

“Arthur von Mehren was a true giant in the area of comparative and international law,” said Lester Kissel Visiting Professor of Law Dan Coquillette, an expert on the history of American legal education. “The leadership and stature he brought to Harvard Law School were extraordinary. He put Harvard on the map globally.”

Born on Aug. 10, 1922, in Albert Lea, Minn., von Mehren graduated from Harvard College in 1942 and from Harvard Law School in 1945. In 1946 he was awarded his doctorate in government from Harvard and was appointed assistant professor at HLS. Von Mehren spent the first three years of his more than 50-year career at Harvard Law School in full-time study of Swiss, German, and French law at the University of Zurich and University of Paris. In 1953 he was named a tenured professor of law at Harvard, and in 1976 he assumed the Story Professorship. Since 1991 he had been the Story Professor of Law Emeritus.

Von Mehren founded the Joseph Story Fellow program, under which talented young German academics would come to work as his research assistant for one-year periods. The 12 graduates of this program are now members of both German and American law faculties. At the time of his death, the Story Fellow alumni were in the process of preparing a commemorative volume of essays to be published in his honor.

A memorial service will be held in his honor later this year.