Supreme Court of Canada’s longest-serving current member heading to Harvard Law

Justice Rosalie Abella, a refugee who became a Supreme Court judge, has been named by Harvard Law School to a chair endowed in the name of international lawyer and Holocaust survivor Samuel Pisar.

The three-year appointment begins on July 1, 2022. Justice Abella reaches the Supreme Court of Canada’s mandatory retirement age of 75 this July. She is the court’s longest-serving current member, having been appointed by then-prime minister Paul Martin in 2004.

Justice Abella is the first Canadian jurist appointed to a chair at Harvard Law School, the school said in a news release. The chair is formally known as the Samuel LL.M. ’55 S.J.D. ’59 and Judith Pisar Visiting Professor of Law. It is currently held by Philippe Sands, an international lawyer who has represented Gambia at the International Court of Justice in a suit in which Gambia is acting on behalf of 57 countries to protect the Rohingya people from genocide in Myanmar.

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The school said Justice Abella, who became a judge in Ontario just before turning 30, has made groundbreaking contributions in human rights, constitutional law, law reform, labour rights, family law, international law, administrative law and judicial education. It also cited her past contributions as chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Ontario Law Reform Commission and the federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, which led her to coin the term “employment equity,” embodied ever since in federal legislation.

Justice Abella will teach two courses for six weeks in the fall and two different six-week courses in the spring, including constitutional law, comparative law, jurisprudence and the role of judges. She will live in Cambridge, Mass., during teaching sessions.

Justice Abella was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1946, on the anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. Four years later, her family came to Canada as refugees. Her father had been trained as a lawyer in prewar Poland, but did not practise law in Canada.

Samuel Pisar, who died in 2015, was the stepfather of the current U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Born in Poland, he survived Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and went on to become an international lawyer, based in New York and Paris, and an adviser to French and U.S. presidents. He told his life story in a 1979 autobiography, Of Blood and Hope.

“Justice Abella is a visionary jurist; a profound and humane thinker; and a vibrant, generous human being,” said Martha Minow, a law professor at Harvard.