Rhonda Copelon, a pioneering human rights attorney and retired City University of New York School of Law professor, died Thursday from ovarian cancer. She was 64.
A 1970 graduate of Yale Law School, Ms. Copelon was a staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) from 1971 to 1983.
She was noted for her role in the landmark Second Circuit decision Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F. 2d 876, which opened U.S. courts to civil actions for abuses of human rights committed abroad. She also argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, in which the Court narrowly upheld a federal ban on Medicaid funding for abortions.
Ironically, both Filártiga and Harris were decided on the same day, June 30, 1980.
In 1983, she became a founding faculty member at CUNY Law. Nine years later, she cofounded the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at the school, which allows students to participate in human rights litigation and advocacy at a national and international level. In 1997, she cofounded Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice (now Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice), an advocacy organization focused on the International Criminal Court.
Ms. Copelon took emeritus status at CUNY Law last year. Last month, she established the Copelon Fund for Gender Justice at CCR and served as vice president.
A memorial service will be held Friday, May 21, at the Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 W. 76th St. A time has not yet been set.