Searching for the right place to launch the Law School’s first study abroad program in the early 1990’s, John J. Barceló, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law and the Elizabeth and Arthur Reich Director of the Berger International Legal Studies Program, chose France, creating a partnership with the Sorbonne Law School in Paris. Almost twenty years later, as the Cornell Summer Institute of International and Comparative Law continues to broaden ties between the two countries, by special decree of President Nicolas Sarkozy, France named Barceló a Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur. Induction into the Legion of Honor is the highest recognition the French government gives to non-citizens.
“It came as a complete surprise, a bolt out of the blue, and I’m still feeling flabbergasted,” said Barceló, who received the news in a letter from Sarkozy in early January. “I’m deeply honored by it, and when I first learned of the award, it reminded me of all the thinking that had gone into our initial choice of Paris, making it the focus of our activity abroad. Objectively, there were many reasons to choose France, whose legal system has been a central force in developments throughout the world, particularly in relation to civil law. But the decision also had a subjective, personal element to it.”
Born and raised in New Orleans, where he earned a J.D. from Tulane University School of Law in 1966, Barceló likes to say he “studied French law before most of the lawyers in France. Not only am I older than most lawyers in France, but from the time I started studying Louisiana law, which is based on the Napoleonic code, I was very conscious of the importance of the French civil law legal tradition. This helps to explain the role comparative law has played throughout my career.”
The medal was formally presented by François Delattre, French ambassador to the United States, in a private ceremony in Ithaca on Monday, April 2. During the ceremony, Delattre spoke about Barceló’s many connections with France, referring to him as a “Francophile in Chief.” Delattre noted that the dual degree program that Barceló was instrumental in creating is one of only two established between an American law school and a French law school.
After the ceremony, Delattre gave a public lecture in the MacDonald Moot Court Room on the topic “New Opportunities in the Franco-American and the Transatlantic Partnership.” Delattre examined economic, diplomatic, and military cooperation between France and the United States, graciously taking questions from students and faculty in attendance.
Joining Delattre and Barceló at the induction ceremony were Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law; Richard Ortoli ’80, who nominated Barceló for the award and serves as the elected representative of French citizens living in the eastern United States; Hélène Ruiz Fabri, dean of the Sorbonne Law School, who also gave two lectures during her stay at Myron Taylor Hall; Cornell Law professors Valerie Hans; Mitchel Lasser, the Jack G. Clarke Professor of Law; and Claire M. Germain, the retired Edward Cornell Law Librarian and emerita professor of law. Barceló was also joined by his wife, Lucy, and two of his three children, Amy Barceló Gray ’04 and Steven.
The process began three years ago with a conversation between Ortoli and Germain, who talked about the links between France and Cornell Law, and proposed nominating Barceló for the Legion of Honor. Surprised to learn Barceló’s contributions had yet to be recognized by France, Ortoli helped advance Barceló’s candidacy through the Consulate General in New York, the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Chancellerie of the Legion d’Honneur, and ultimately Sarkozy, who signed the official decree in December 2011.
“Professor Barceló has been at the center of the Law School’s growth in international and comparative law,” said Schwab. “He is a great colleague, teacher, and mentor. He has been intimately connected with the French legal system and Cornell Law’s many programs with French law schools, including overseeing our longstanding Paris Summer Institute, a five-week academic program in international and comparative law at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Jack Barceló is richly deserving of this honor.”