By Toni Mendicino and Andrew Cohen
As Berkeley Law basked in a welcome respite of blue skies after a period of chilly rainstorms, Thomas von Danwitz brought welcome rays of hope for human rights during his recent visit to the school.
A judge with the European Union Court of Justice in Luxembourg since 2006, von Danwitz gave this year’s Irving G. Tragen Lecture in Comparative Law on “The Role of the Court of Justice in the Course of European Integration.” Chosen for his ongoing contributions to international scholarship and case law, he also spoke on privacy law and tech regulation, recorded a podcast episode with Berkeley Law Professor Katerina Linos, and renewed rooted relationships while making valued new ones.
A rapt Tragen Lecture audience ranging in age from 20 to 100 heard von Danwitz trace the emergence, development, and perspective of the European Union’s judiciary. With the EU Court of Justice marking its 70th anniversary, von Danwitz elucidated its progression in shaping the evolving legal framework for key economic, social, and political developments in Europe and beyond.
“The court’s contribution to the consolidation of the European peace and order and to the protection of rights and freedoms of (EU) citizens” has been vital, said von Danwitz, who served as its president from 2012 to 2018 after being elected by his peers. He recounted the court’s strong influence on supreme and constitutional courts across the world, its establishment as “a community of law instead of a primacy of politics” in the aftermath of World War II.
Noting the court’s important presence, von Danwitz explained its mechanisms for enforcing the rule of law and protecting personal freedoms while guarding treaties against infringement by its member states.
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky gave opening remarks and saluted Tragen — a 1945 Berkeley Law graduate who became a distinguished diplomat with 55 years of service and received the school’s highest honor, the Citation Award, in 2010. Another guest, Professor Emeritus and renowned international law scholar Richard Buxbaum ’53 LL.M., was hailed by von Danwitz as a notable influencer of the court.
Linos, the school’s Irving G. and Eleanor D. Tragen Professor of law and faculty co-director of its Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law, asked von Danwitz, “What keeps you up at night?” He voiced concerns about climate change and discussed the court’s ability to effectively intervene, citing an example of sanctions issued during provisional rulings as a way to speed up protections.
The day before, von Danwitz also participated in a standing-room-only lunch panel titled “Regulating the Tech Sphere: Data Privacy in Europe and Beyond.” Cosponsored by the Miller Institute and PrivLAB and moderated by Berkeley Law Professor Paul Schwartz, the panel also included Columbia Professor and EU regulatory scholar Anu Bradford, internationally-acclaimed author of The Brussels Effect.
Students were treated to a master class in European case law analysis and the EU’s regulatory framework. This included discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation — a 2018 EU law that governs how personal data can be used, processed, and stored — in the realms of privacy, consumer protection, and comparison to the U.S. system of judicial balance between federal and state interests.
The panelists addressed new frontiers in artificial intelligence and tensions between what Bradford called “digital empires” China, Europe, and the U.S. She contended that Europe’s “impact outside its borders” in the tech realm demonstrates a global thirst for regulation and data privacy by citizens. Judge von Danwitz shared dynamic case developments.
Made a French Republic Knight of the National Order of Merit in 2002, von Danwitz has held several visiting professorships. He also served as dean of the Faculty of Law at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and was a professor of German public law and European law at the University of Cologne, where he directed the Institute of Public Law and Administrative Science.
Fondly recalling his year-long teaching and research fellowship at UC Berkeley in 2005 and the deep friendships it yielded, von Danwitz shared his time in residence between Berkeley Law and the Institute for European Studies. Some 18 years later, he relished connecting with a new generation of students, staff, and faculty eager to learn about European judicial scholarship.
During his visit, von Danwitz also recorded “Conversations on Europe,” an upcoming episode of “Borderlines,” the podcast hosted by Linos on topical international and comparative law issues. He brought to life the European Court of Justice’s historic and hopeful role in setting a world example of how to navigate the fundamental human rights, international trade, and environmental challenges of today.