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Noted Journalist-Lawyer Speaks at Law School

October 06, 2010

Scott Horton, a renowned attorney, contributing editor to Harper’s magazine and adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, discussed the value of writing clearly and upholding basic human rights during a visit to the law school on Oct. 5.

"Most lawyers are terrible writers," said Horton, appearing at a talk sponsored by the Middle East Law Student Association.

Effective advocates rely on declarative sentences, meticulous accuracy and relevant details whether writing briefs, crafting witness statements or submitting pleadings, Horton said.

Legal matters seldom get the attention they deserve in scholarly journals or in mainstream journalism, Horton said.

"Many journalists write about law as if it’s something experts understand but they don’t, a sort of 'he said, she said' discussion," he said. "There’s often a latent bias in favor of authority."

Horton described President Obama’s decision to put U.S. citizen and Yemeni imam Anwar al-Awlaki on a targeted CIA assassination list on the basis of national security concerns as "an extremely important case" that has received scant media attention.

"It’s very troubling," Horton said, adding that the Obama Administration would be authorized to do so under the law of armed conflict, if it possessed evidence that al-Awlaki led a military effort to harm U.S. interests. "They’re not making that case. They’re saying the president has broad powers as commander-in-chief. I don’t buy that."

A life-long human rights advocate, Horton served as counsel to Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, among other activists in the former Soviet Union. Horton recently led studies of abuse issues associated with the conduct of the war on terror for the New York City Bar Association, where he has chaired several committees, including, most recently, the Committee on International Law.