Robert Brandt von Mehren

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Robert Brandt von Mehren

The American lawyer Robert Brandt von Mehren (born 1922) was instrumental in creating the legal structure of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Robert B. von Mehren was born in Albert Lea, MN, on August 10, 1922. His twin brother, Arthur T. von Mehren, was the Story Professor of Law at Harvard University. He also had a younger brother who was killed in World War II. His father, a civil engineer, was born in Denmark, and his mother was American. An educated and cultured man with a keen interest in art, history, and literature, von Mehren's father had a strong influence on him.

Von Mehren attended Sidney Pratt Elementary School and John Marshall High School in Minneapolis, MN. He won a scholarship to Yale University, where he majored in comparative government, with a minor in economics and politics. He graduated summa cum laude in December 1942.

In 1943 he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard Law School and entered it in the fall of that year. He decided to study law because, as he believed, it provides "an excellent combination of the active and contemplative" and "unlocks the door to many opportunities." He was a member of the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review from 1943 to 1946 and was elected its president for volume 59. He graduated magna cum laude in February 1946.

Von Mehren started his legal career in April 1946 with the New York law firm of Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons and Gates. He took a leave of absence to serve as law clerk for Judge Learned Hand of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit during the October 1946 term. During the October 1947 term he served as law clerk for Justice Stanley F. Reed of the Supreme Court of the United States. After 1948 he returned to Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons and Gates, and became a member of the firm in April 1957. He remained a partner at the firm until 1993.

In 1954 von Mehren was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also admitted to practice before six lesser but important courts—the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal for the Second Circuit (1950), the Third Circuit (1953), and the District of Columbia (1974); the U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of New York (1949) and the Eastern District of New York (1971); and the U.S. Tax Court (1972).

A leading expert on international law, von Mehren served as legal counsel to the preparatory commission of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1956 to 1957. He was closely involved in setting up the legal structure of the agency and in making the preparations for the first conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was held in Vienna, Austria, in the fall of 1957. He was a consultant to the Rand Corporation on disarmament problems from 1960 to 1966 and to the Hudson Institute on international law problems from 1962 to 1966.

From 1961 to 1966 von Mehren was also director of the Legal Aid Society. A hard-working activist, especially in international law, he was president of the American branch of the International Law Association, a member of the executive council of the American Society of International Law, a member of the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Von Mehren was also an influential member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, serving as chairman of its Committee on International Law, of the Committee on Law Reform, and of the Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Payments. He served as chairman of the Special Committee to Study Defender Systems (a joint committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association), which published its report, "Equal Justice for the Accused," in April 1959. In addition, he served as secretary of the Special Committee on Atomic Energy and was a member of the Special Committee to Co-operate with the International Commission of Jurists.

Von Mehren was a trustee of the Practicing Law Institute in New York City starting in 1972 and served as its president (1979-1986) and its board chairman, beginning in 1986. He contributed numerous articles to professional law journals. He married Mary Katharine Kelly on June 26, 1948, and they had five children. After her death in 1985, he married Susan Heller Anderson in 1988.

Further Reading

Von Mehren's many articles include two on atomic energy: "The Atomic Energy Act and The Private Production of Atomic Power," co-authored with Oscar M. Ruebhausen and published in the Harvard Law Review (June 1953), and "The International Atomic Energy Agency in World Politics," Journal of International Affairs (January 1959). Also useful is his study with P. Nicholas Kourides of "International Arbitrations between States and Foreign Private Parties: The Libyan Nationalization Cases," American Journal of International Law (1981). □