By Richard Pearson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday , April 17, 2000 ; B06
Abram Chayes, 77, a prominent international lawyer who was a retired
Harvard University law school professor and had been
a Kennedy administration State Department legal adviser, died April 16 at a hospital in Boston. He had pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Chayes joined the Harvard Law faculty in 1955 and had become a full
professor by 1958. He took leave of the law school
in 1961 to become legal adviser to the State Department, a job he held until June 1964. Then, he was affiliated with the law
firm of Ginsburg & Feldman until rejoining the Harvard Law faculty in 1965. He was named Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law
in 1976 and held that chair until taking emeritus status in 1993.
During his years at State, he was involved in the Cuban missile crisis,
in 1962. That fall, this country received intelligence that
Soviet offensive missiles had been brought to Cuba from the Soviet Union and that more were on the way.
Part of the American response to the crisis was to place the Navy athwart
the shipping lanes to Cuba with orders to turn back
Soviet-bloc and other ships that carried missiles or missile components.
If these actions had been interpreted as a "blockade," international
law could recognize the United States's move as an act of
war. It was up to Mr. Chayes, and others, to explain that the Navy was not exercising a "blockade" but rather a "quarantine."
The distinction, which was accepted by most international parties, included
the fact that a quarantine was not a unilateral act,
but rather an action carried on under the authority of an international body, such as (in this case) the Organization of American
States, and that only a small number of substances, rather than indiscriminate amounts of material, were being affected.
In addition to his State Department post, he acted elsewhere in the
public arena over the years. He served as platform
committee staff director at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, was an adviser to the 1972 presidential campaign of
Sen. George S. McGovern (D-S.D.) and served as foreign policy and defense task force director of the 1976 Jimmy Carter
presidential campaign. In 1967 and 1968, he coordinated the media chapter of the landmark National Advisory Commission
on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission.
Mr. Chayes was an authority in international contract dispute resolution,
teaching such subjects at Harvard as well as
participating in international trials, arbitrations and mediations.
In the 1980s, he served as the attorney for the left-wing government
of Nicaragua before the World Court in that country's
efforts to oppose the Reagan administration's support for contra forces in Nicaragua.
Mr. Chayes, who lived in Cambridge, Mass., was born in Chicago. He was
an officer in the Army field artillery in the European
and Pacific theaters during World War II. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
He was a 1943 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where
he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a 1949
magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University law school, where he graduated first in his class and served as Law Review
From 1949 to 1951, he was a legal aide to Gov. Chester B. Bowles (D-Conn.),
then served in 1951 and 1952 as a clerk to
U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. From 1952 to 1955, he was an associate with the Washington law
firm of Covington & Burling.
Last year, he was presented with the Harvard Law School Association
Award, the association's highest honor. The citation for
the award hailed him as an "advocate for the rights of sovereign nations and the protection of the global environment," and
added that his work "redefined the role of international law in the complex regimes that regulate and order our independent
He wrote more than 50 technical works, including the books "The Cuban
Missile Crisis, International Crisis and the Role of
Law," which was published in 1974, and "The New Sovereignty: Compliance with Treaties in International Regulatory
Regimes," a 1995 book he co-wrote with his wife, Antonia Handler Chayes, a former Air Force undersecretary.
In addition to his wife, of Cambridge, survivors include five children,
Sarah Chayes of Paris, Angelica Chayes Swenson of
Canaan, N.Y., and Eve Chayes Lyman, Abigail Chayes Lyman and Lincoln Chayes, all of Los Angeles; and eight
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