Tag Archives: Mueller

In thesis, Mueller stressed rule of law

By Ngan Chiem

Pennsauken, NJ 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been preparing for the Russia investigation for more than 50 years.

Mueller is currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by President Donald Trump’s campaign, but 52 years ago, when Mueller was an undergraduate at Princeton, he was fixated on another question.

The future FBI director, then 22, was thinking about Africa.    

In 1966, the International Court of Justice, the judicial branch of the United Nations, ruled on a case deciding whether South Africa had the right to expand apartheid—a system of racial segregation—to nearby Southwest Africa, now known as Namibia. At the time, South Africa had authority over the area, which came with the condition that South Africa would govern humanely and promote peace. It was this promise that encouraged Ethiopia and Liberia to bring the case to the United Nations, claiming apartheid was unethical.

Mueller’s thesis focused on one question: Did the International Court of Justice—or, the World Court —even have the right to rule on the case? The majority opinion at the time was that the Court did.

Historically, the World Court was designed to be a place where sovereign states could request the legal opinion of the United Nations. But the dissent argued that South Africa was completely within its rights under an agreement signed after South Africa took the territory after World War I.

In his thesis, Mueller recognized the legal strength of the dissenting judges’ opinion that the Court had no right to interfere with South Africa. But he also argued that the Court’s ethical responsibility to intervene was written into its mandate. In the face of strong legal arguments on both sides, Mueller turned his attention to the moral issue at the heart of the case: apartheid.

“He’s really saying, when the law is ambiguous, you should do the ethnically right thing,” said Mueller’s thesis adviser Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “That’s an issue that many lawyers don’t understand. And he understood it and at a very early age.”

In the end, Mueller concluded that despite the strength of the argument denying the court’s authority to rule on the issue, it was outweighed by the court’s ethical obligation to preserve human rights. The Court’s decision to take South Africa’s case, he wrote, “was a positive contribution … to the ultimate goal of a world peace founded upon a rule of law.”

Now, more than 50 years later, Mueller stands on the precipice of a decision in the Russia investigation, which is how to handle any potential misconduct by the President of the United States and his campaign. To predict a man’s judgement based on his writing from decades ago can be precarious, especially considering the high stakes. But at least during his undergraduate days, Mueller saw flexibility in the law. “What he wrote as a Princeton senior,” Falk said, remains “quite interesting—and relevant.”

At Princeton, Mueller tackled rule of law issues in thesis

By Prettystar Lopez

Bronx, NY 

During his final year at Princeton University, in 1966, Robert Mueller wrote a senior thesis about the role of the law in a dramatic international crisis. Half a century later, as Special Counsel for the Russia investigation, Mueller finds himself at the center of another complex legal fight, fraught with political and ethical questions. It’s hard not to see parallels between the cases.

Mueller’s thesis concerned a narrow case with global implications. The World Court, or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), was called to rule on a legal complaint against South Africa’s extension of apartheid—the country’s brutal segregationist policy—to neighboring South West Africa (now Namibia). The Court was split on whether it even had the right to rule on the matter. Mueller, too, was conflicted. But he ultimately argued that the court’s job was not just to rule on narrow legal disputes, but large-scale moral questions, like apartheid.

Professor Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Mueller’s thesis advisor at the time, thinks Mueller’s conclusion may shed light on his handling of the Russia investigation. “What he does is examine these legal arguments carefully and then he said, ‘This court is not just interested in legal analysis, it’s also a court set up to contribute to a more peaceful world, and to help with the promotion of human rights,’” Falk said. “The underlying question [of the Russia investigation] is, did [Trump] or did he not, do things that were subversive to the constitutional democracy? If [Mueller] was consistent with the way he handled his thesis, he would say, ‘We hold president Trump accountable for what he did because it’s very damaging to the quality of democracy.’”

But what if American democracy has bigger problems than Russia? While meddling in the 2016 election is antithetical to the democratic process, it is of little relevance to those who find themselves entangled with problems in their own communities. America isn’t an apartheid state, like South Africa was. Nor is it as racially segregated as when Mueller attended Princeton. But the rise of Donald Trump—with or without Russian help —has inflamed racial divisions that persist from that era.

Mueller built his thesis on the idea that legal bodies have moral responsibilities. And he may well apply those principles in his investigation. Yet, as a nation we face internal dilemmas around race and poverty that have barely been mitigated with the passing of time. To argue that our democracy is suddenly at stake, and that Mueller can save it, our country would have had to be doing well before. And it certainly wasn’t. Whatever Mueller concludes in the Russia investigation, there are broader societal problems he is unlikely to solve.