Kudos for Judge Joan Donoghue … and L Alumnae!

John Bellinger
Thursday, February 11, 2021, 2:42 PM

Alumnae of the State Department Legal Adviser’s Office (known as “L”) are now ruling the legal world, or at least important parts of it.

The State Department Building (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Department_of_State_Washington_DC.JPG; CC BY-SA 3.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

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If the world has seemed to be a more stable place in the last few weeks, you were right. That’s because alumnae of the State Department Legal Adviser’s Office (known as “L”) are now governing the legal world, or at least important parts of it.

On Monday, Joan Donoghue, who has served as a judge on the International Court of Justice since 2010, was elected by her fellow judges to serve as president (chief judge) of the 15-member court. She is only the third woman elected to the World Court and is the first American woman to be elected president. Before joining the court, Joan served for 20 years in L (and an additional seven years as deputy general counsel of the Treasury and general counsel of Freddie Mac). Based on the wise counsel of her colleagues in L, I recruited Joan back into the State Department from Freddie Mac to be my principal deputy legal adviser in 2007, and she served as acting legal adviser after my departure until June 2009.

Closer to home, numerous L alumnae have been appointed to important positions in the Biden administration. Avril Haines, of course, was recently confirmed as the director of national intelligence. Avril served as the assistant legal adviser for treaty affairs while I was legal adviser. During the eight years of the Bush administration, while Avril headed the treaty office and as a detailee to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate approved a record 163 treaties. Avril was one of the hardest-working lawyers in L.

Sue Biniaz has been named the deputy climate envoy, under John Kerry. Sue served for more than 30 years in L, including as one of four deputy legal advisers while I was legal adviser. Sue was the U.S. government’s lead climate change and environmental lawyer for more than two decades. I exhausted Sue with questions about the 300 arcane provisions of the Law of the Sea treaty.

Ashley Deeks has been named deputy National Security Council legal adviser. I relied heavily on Ashley’s advice when she served as assistant legal adviser for politico-military Affairs. As Lawfare readers know, she is one of the world’s leading experts on the use of force and the laws of war.

Mallory Stewart has been appointed senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation on the National Security Council staff. She served in L’s non-proliferation office and later as deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy.

Margaret Taylor has been named general counsel of USAID. Margaret, of course, is a former senior editor of Lawfare and former Democratic chief counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She is one of the U.S. government’s leading experts on foreign assistance.

Sheba Crocker served on the Biden administration’s State Department review team, together with Sue Biniaz and Margaret Taylor. She served in L in the 1990s and later as assistant secretary of state for international organizations in the Obama administration.

I have been privileged to work with all of these outstanding women, who have demonstrated that the cream really does rise to the top. The U.S. government and the world are fortunate to have all of them as dedicated public servants. Congratulations to all of them!

John B. Bellinger III is a partner in the international and national security law practices at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC. He is also Adjunct Senior Fellow in International and National Security Law at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as The Legal Adviser for the Department of State from 2005–2009, as Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the White House from 2001–2005, and as Counsel for National Security Matters in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice from 1997–2001.

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