David J Bederman (1961-2011)

David J Bederman (1961-2011)

I’m so saddened to report that Professor David J Bederman has passed away at the age of 50 after a lengthy illness. Emory has a tribute to David here.

I still vividly remember my first encounter with David’s work when I was a new attorney in the Legal Adviser’s Office and read his concise, witty and simply wonderfully written introductory text, International Law Frameworks. I was inspired by how he managed to condense (accurately) the intellectual history of international law into a mere dozen pages. I was struck both then, and later as I came to know David as a colleague, by just how wide and deep his knowledge was of international law, and the truly passionate manner in which he pursued his interests in this field (which, I’d add was only one among many areas of expertise, alongside admiralty law and a successful Supreme Court practice).

Over the last six months, I was fortunate enough to work with David on a chapter that he wrote for my forthcoming Oxford Guide to Treaties. David authored the chapter on Third Party Rights and Obligations in Treaties. I was so impressed that, even as his health failed him, he wanted to hone his chapter into what I hope will be a seminal contribution to the field of treaty law.  I know I’m not the only international lawyer who was touched by David or his work, but I will say I consider myself fortunate to have known and worked with him.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations to be made in Professor Bederman’s memory to the Patient Assistance Fund at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University or to the laboratory of Dr. H. Richard Alexander Jr., professor of research and associate chairman for clinical research at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

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Dan Joyner

This is very sad news. I’ve known David for ten years, and he has been a friend and often a mentor to me. He was a kind, humble and generous man. Professionally, he was one of the very finest international lawyers in this country. I will miss him.
Dan Joyner

Vlad Perju

This is terribly sad news.  I’ve known and respected David Bederman for almost twenty-five years.  He was just a prince of a guy, and did very good and interesting work on international law.

A few years ago while he was battling cancer I asked him what sustained him.  In addition to his family, he said he just loved to wake up every morning and think about his next writing project.  That was David.

You can watch him in action presenting the Inaugural David J. Bederman Lecture here, which he gave just over two months ago.

He will be greatly missed.

Roger Alford

Kenneth Anderson

I am also very saddened by this news.  He will be missed.


[…] School has offered kind remarks of his passing here, and others offer their reflections on his life here and […]

Peter Spiro

David and I were in the same intro public international law class (taught by Richard Lillich) at UVa in the mid 1980s.  He was truly devoted to the subject, from then on.  He was an amazing person in many respects — in addition to his prolific scholarship, David was a major player as counsel in a number of sea treasure cases.  The college of international law will feel the loss.


This has been a sad week for the international law community, with the unexpected passing of Jon Van Dyke (who was 68) and the passing of David Bederman (who was 50) – both too young. At the last AALS meeting, Mark Wojcik arranged a time to remember colleagues who passed away during the prior year. This should be continued.
Death has frequently been indicted. Sometimes, but rarely, welcomed, too frequently criminal in war and times of relative peace, sometimes terroristic, and too often leaving behind devastating consequences. Death should be convicted and sent away.

Harlan Cohen

This is incredibly sad news. David was a master scholar across a number of different areas of international law – to say that I aspire to have a career like his would unreasonably suggest that it would be achievable. More importantly, as a senior colleague in my field, he was always incredibly kind. I remember a conference very early in my career, when I still didn’t know very many people and situations could be pretty awkward. David sought me out and expressed real interest in hearing what I was working on. It did a lot to make me feel more comfortable and like I had a home in the field. Just a couple of months ago, in a characteristically generous email, David said he hoped we would have a chance to chat more about one of my projects. It is incredibly sad to know that we won’t have that opportunity.

Chris Borgen

What horrible news.  As Duncan and others have said, David was not only a prolific and insightful scholar, he was a warm and wonderful person. He was truly generous.  

A little over ten years ago, while I was the Director of Reserach and Outreach at the ASIL, I assisted David while he was writing a handbook on international law for U.S. judges as part of the ASIL’s judicial outreach program. As the project was ending, David decided to list me as a co-author. I didn’t expect (and didn’t even think I deserved) this. It was an incredibly generous act on his part. 

From the time I first met him as a law student until the last time we e-mailed a few months back, David was always giving me advice, suggestions, and encouragement.

I am in awe of David’s accomplishments as a scholar; but I am truly thankful that he was a friend. And I will miss him dearly.

Edward Swaine
Edward Swaine

I was terribly sorry to hear of his untimely passing.  I knew David only casually as a person, but I know him very well as a scholar.  Though he wrote of his ambivalence toward international law scholarship, I think he would take some comfort in the fact that his work will long outlive him (or any of us).  His incredibly broad and deep knowledge and skill made him the model of a learned lawyer.

Bobby Ahdieh
Bobby Ahdieh

The Emory Law Journal is putting together a special issue, dedicated to David.  If you think you might wish to contribute a piece (up to 2,000 words) to it, please let me know.