Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of Canada’s Supreme Court Named Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham Law


Fordham Law School has named Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of the Canadian Supreme Court the William Hughes Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor in International Studies for the Spring 2022 semester.

The role honors Judge William Hughes Mulligan FCRH ’39, LAW ’42, who served as dean of Fordham Law School from 1956 to 1971 and as a distinguished jurist on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1971 to 1981.

Justice Abella, who retired from the bench in July, has spent her entire career working towards issues of human rights, equality, and constitutional law, with several of her approximately 200 Supreme Court rulings resonating with judiciaries around the world. She was the only non-American to testify before President Biden’s Supreme Court commission this past July.

Justice Abella created the term and concept of “employment equity” in the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment. The theories of “equality” and “discrimination” that Justice Abella developed in the Royal Commission report were later adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada in its first decision dealing with equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1989. The report has since been implemented by the governments of New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.

“We are thrilled to have Justice Abella—one of the world’s leading jurists—join us this semester in this role,” said Dean Matthew Diller. “Justice Abella has become a leading spokesperson for upholding the rule of law and democratic values that are so under siege on a global scale.”

“Her own life story and career in the law is a great model for our students on how to bring one’s experiences and humanity to bear on the contributions that one can make through the law,” Dean Diller added.

“The Judicial Role in a Democracy” Course

In the distinguished role, Justice Abella will be teaching a two-credit, condensed semester course titled “The Judicial Role in a Democracy: The United States and Canada” (CRN 45923 / Course ID ​​FCGL-0169-001) from March 23 to May 4. The course, she says, will be viewed from multiple lenses—including comparative law, domestic law, and international law—and has been designed to engage with what she sees as one of the most crucial issues for the justice system in general.

“It gets to the heart of what Supreme Court judges do—or should do—in a democracy and what they should protect,” Justice Abella explained. “It also raises questions about court legitimacy, accountability, and democracies, and what they all mean.”

“[The course] will compare what other Supreme Courts have done with what the American Supreme Court has done—looking with particular emphasis on what Canada has done—in the field of human rights, labor rights, constitutional rights, and privacy rights,” she added. “For me, all those areas that are on the front burner of people’s concerns warrant attention from really thoughtful, intelligent students who will be carrying the banner of justice into the future.”

Upper-level J.D. students can register for the course beginning January 3. Add/drop begins on January 7 and ends on January 25 at 11:59 p.m.

Returning to Fordham Law

Justice Abella is no stranger to Fordham Law having visited the Law School when she delivered the Robert L. Levine Distinguished Lecture in 2018 and spoke with Professor James Brudney‘s first-year Legislation and Regulation class in 2019. She called her previous experiences at Fordham Law “magical” and is looking forward to both spending time with and learning from the Fordham Law faculty and students.

“I fell in love with Fordham Law the first time I walked through the halls,” Justice Abella said. “I found the faculty extraordinarily welcoming, thoughtful, and intelligent, and I thought the students were engaging and engaged.”

“Every experience I had at Fordham Law made me want to come back and taste more of the atmosphere and the thinking that was going on because it was really electric and dynamic,” she continued. “So, when Dean Diller invited me to come back [as the William Hughes Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor], I jumped at the opportunity without any hesitation at all.”

After visiting with Fordham Law, Justice Abella will assume her role as the Samuel and Judith Pisar Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School in the fall of 2022.

A Distinguished Career on the Bench

Before she became the first Jewish woman appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court in 2004, Justice Abella was a refugee. She moved with her family to Canada in 1950 after being born in a displaced person’s camp in Stuttgart, Germany four years earlier to parents who survived concentration camps.

In 1964 Justice Abella graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano. She later attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a B.A. in 1967 and an LL.B. in 1970. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1972 and practiced civil and criminal litigation until 1976 when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court at the age of 29—the first pregnant person appointed to the judiciary in Canada.

Justice Abella chaired and authored the Ontario Study on Access to Legal Services by the Disabled in 1983 and was the sole commissioner of the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment. She also served as chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (1984 to 1989), chair of the Ontario Law Reform Commission (1989 to 1992), and Boulton Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University (1988 to 1992). She was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992. Justice Abella also served as a commissioner on the Ontario Human Rights Commission, member of the Ontario Public Service Labour Relations Tribunal, co-chair of the University of Toronto Academic Discipline Tribunal, and member of the Premier’s Advisory Committee on Confederation. She was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1997, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007, and to the American Philosophical Society in 2018. In 2020, she was awarded the Knight Commander‘s Cross of the Order of Merit by the President of Germany.

Justice Abella has written over 90 articles and written or co-edited four books. She was a judge of the Giller Literary Prize and chair of the Rhodes Selection Committee for Ontario. She has been active in Canadian judicial education, organizing the first judicial seminar in which all levels of the judiciary participated, the first judicial seminar in which persons outside the legal profession were invited to participate, the first national education program for administrative tribunals, and the first national conference for Canada’s female judges.

Justice Abella has 39 honorary degrees including from Yale University and Brandeis University.


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