Columbia Law School Professor and expert in international law, Sarah Cleveland, has been nominated by the Biden administration to serve as a judge for the International Court of Justice. This comes only months after she was rejected by the U.S. Senate for the position of legal advisor to the State Department.
Cleveland’s experience is extensive and her accolades highly impressive.
During her studies she obtained a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, a master’s degree from Oxford, and a J.D. from Yale.
Following this, Cleveland spent time as a Fellow at Skadden, an international law firm consistently ranked as one of the best in the United States, placing as the 6th highest grossing law firm in the world on the 2021 Global 200 survey. While in this position, Cleveland worked with Florida Rural Legal Services to improve wages and working conditions for migrant farmworkers.
She then went on to become a Professor of international law, teaching at a number of institutions including Oxford and Harvard University.
From 2009 to 2011, Cleveland worked as the Counsellor on International Law in the Office of the Legal Adviser within the Department of State. Since then she has also spent 3 years as Vice Chair and member of the UN Human Rights Committee.
At present, she holds the Louis Henkin Chair in Human and Constitutional Rights at Columbia University Law School in New York.
Great to see @ICJ_org Commissioner Sarah Cleveland nominated by the US to the Int'l Court of Justice. She would bring a strong mix of scholarship, judicial fairness, and respect for human rights to the world court. @CIJ_ICJ https://t.co/8RoQuEW3z2
— Sam Zarifi (@SZarifi) August 29, 2022
The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its function is to settle legal disputes submitted to it in accordance with international law and provide advisory opinions on legal questions put to it by UN bodies and agencies.
Professor Cleveland’s nomination into this Court has sparked controversy due to her views on abortion rights.
Cleveland is openly pro-choice and supports the stance that abortion should be an international human right.
In line with this, as part of the 2016 Mellet v. Ireland case during her time as part of the UN Human Rights Committee, Cleveland and her colleagues presented the argument that restricting abortion access constitutes gender discrimination.
As explained by Fiona de Londras and Máiréad Enright, this is due to the fact that “abortion is a procedure that only women need and (…) compelling women to continue a pregnancy exposes them to gender-specific health risks.”
It was reportedly because of these views that the Senate unanimously voted against Cleveland’s nomination for legal advisor to the State Department earlier this year.
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Although Cleveland is recognised as “a noted expert in the areas of international law, U.S. foreign relations law, human rights, and national security,” this new nomination has provoked a resumption of the criticisms directed at her by conservative and pro-life groups.
Cleveland’s views are being labelled as “abortion extremism” as such organisations fear that, were she to be brought into the International Court, Cleveland could “apply pressure from above” onto the US government’s stance against an international right to abortion.
We strongly oppose the nomination of Sarah Cleveland to the position of Legal Advisor for the Department of State.
Cleveland espouses radical pro-abortion views that directly challenge pro-life policies widely supported by U.S. voters.https://t.co/ycZcCK0uwx
— March for Life Action (@MFLAction) March 8, 2022
It is perhaps unsurprising that Cleveland’s position on this one issue is dominating many reports of her nomination. The overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24 by the Supreme Court, and the protesting from both sides of the debate that followed, made it undeniable that this is a highly divisive topic both within the country and worldwide.
It is nonetheless disappointing to see Cleveland’s highly distinguished career disregarded in order to instead place focus solely on her views concerning abortion rights.
Cleveland’s nomination will be discussed at the General Assembly in 2023. For her to be elected, she must receive an absolute majority of the votes of both the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The International Court of Justice, the Hague. Featured Photo Credit: United Nations.