Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law: Joan E. Donoghue

Joan E. Donoghue headshot

The Honorable Joan E. Donoghue, the current American judge serving on the International Court of Justice and a lifelong public servant in the fields of international and foreign relations law.

March 4, 2015

Joan E. Donoghue was elected a judge of the International Court of Justice on Sept. 9, 2010 – only the third woman chosen to be a member of the court. The General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations then re-elected her for a nine-year term beginning Feb. 16.

Established in 1945 and located in The Hague, Netherlands, the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Composed of 15 judges, it settles disputes between nations and renders advisory opinions at the request of other organs of the United Nations.

Since joining the U.S. Department of State in 1984, Donoghue has pursued a distinguished career in international law. In support of her nomination for a second term, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked, “Since joining the court in 2010, Judge Donoghue has demonstrated exceptional intelligence, integrity and independence in addressing the diverse and complex issues that come before the court. Her knowledge, temperament and commitment to the rule of law make her an outstanding choice for this important position.”

As the principal deputy legal adviser from 2007 to 2010, Donoghue was the State Department’s senior career lawyer, and served as the acting legal adviser to the secretary of state for the first six months of the Obama administration. For this work, she received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Honor Award and the Presidential Rank Award (Meritorious Executive).

Donoghue’s earlier responsibilities in the Office of the Legal Adviser included economic sanctions, investment, aviation, the law of the sea, international environmental law, state and official immunity, and responsibility for issues arising in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In addition to her service at the State Department, Donoghue served as general counsel and corporate secretary for Freddie Mac, and as deputy general counsel for the Department of the Treasury. She also served as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow.

She has taught at several U.S. law schools and has lectured widely on international law. Within the United States, she focuses particular attention on audiences who are not familiar with the role that international law plays in their daily lives. She also has lectured on investment law in the United Nations Regional Training Course for Africa.

"Joan Donoghue began her career in international law more than 30 years ago. During her many years of service at the U.S. State Department, she was responsible for a succession of diverse and important issues, culminating in three years of service as the Department of State’s senior career lawyer,” said Paul Mahoney, dean of the University of Virginia School of Law. “In this role, she helped direct a large legal office that advises one of the world’s most complicated organizations on some of the world’s most delicate legal issues. As a judge of the International Court of Justice, she participates in settling disputes between states and in fostering the progressive development of international law.”

Donoghue was born in 1956 in Yonkers, New York. In 1978, she graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with honors degrees in Russian studies and biology. She received her juris doctor in 1981 from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her past awards include the Secretary of State Distinguished Honor Award, the Presidential Rank Award and honors from the Federal Bar Association.

The School of Law will host a public talk by Donoghue on April 13 at 10 a.m. in its Caplin Pavilion.

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Robert Hull

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