ASCL History

The first officers of the American Society of Comparative Law, elected in 1951, reflected the significance of the nascent organization to the emerging fields of comparative and foreign law and private international law (conflict of laws). The officers and their affiliation were: President, Phanor J. Eder (American Foreign Law Association); Vice President, Hessel E. Yntema (University of Michigan); Secretary, Alexis C. Coudert (Parker School, Columbia University); and Treasurer, David F. Cavers (Harvard University). Within one year they had established The American Journal of Comparative Law, with Hessel Yntema as its Editor-in-Chief. The remainder of that first board of editors also gave great promise that the goal of establishing a comparative law journal would be a success: Joseph Dainow, Walter Derenberg, Albert Ehrenzweig, Jerome Hall, John Hazard, Heinrich Kronstein, Myres McDougal, Kurt Nadelmann, Max Rheinstein, Rudolf Schlesinger, David Stern, and Arthur von Mehren.

Roscoe Pound, then dean emeritus of Harvard Law School, wrote in the Journal’s first issue about the important role that comparative law had played in the development of American law. Beyond the contributions of Kent and Story in incorporating ideas of civilian lawyers, Pound exhorted:

If we . . . compare the authoritative techniques received in different bodies of law and the modes of applying them, this along with the established comparison of authoritative precepts and doctrines as it has gone in the past, will yield a complete, well-rounded comparative method well worthy of a place among the received methods of the science of law. Such a method is needed in the economically unifying world of today and will be needed even more as we achieve the more complete unification that will overcome the nationalism we have inherited from the sixteenth century.

Hessel Yntema at the same time summarized his vision for the American Journal of Comparative Law:

The purposes in view, corresponding to the practical and scientific objectives of comparative law, are twofold: on the one hand, to encourage general investigation of legal problems, whether theoretical or empirical, as essential to the advancement of legal science and, on the other, to provide information respecting foreign legal developments, as increasingly requisite in legal practice and for legal reform. That these, the scientific and the practical, are complementary aspects of law, both of which require attention, has been recognized in the organization of the Journal, which is designed to provide a forum in which academic scholarship and the practising bar can provide mutual assistance in the examination of basic or current legal problems on a comparative basis.

In addition to the Journal, the ASCL from the beginning coordinated American participation in the prestigious congresses of the International Academy of Comparative Law. In 1952 the national committee (managed by Roscoe Pound and John Hazard) planned for the United States national reports to the Fourth International Congress of Comparative Law held in Paris in 1954. The ASCL played a key facilitating role during the Nineteenth International Congress in Vienna, Austria, in 2014, and will continue to play that role for all subsequent IACL Congresses.

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