International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Winter 2011 Issue

Justice In Profile

Judge Joan E. Donoghue

Judge Joan E. DonoghueBy: Taylor G. Stout, Reporter, International Judicial Monitor

Joan E. Donoghue is the newest judge on the International Court of Justice.  The ICJ is the primary judicial arm of the United Nations.  Established in 1945 and located in The Hague, the ICJ serves two functions.  First, it adjudicates legal disputes between the UN’s 192 member nations.  And second, it issues advisory legal opinions on matters referred to it by organs and agencies of the UN.

The United Nations announced Judge Donoghue’s election to the Court by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council on September 9, 2010.  She will finish the remainder of Judge Thomas Buergenthal’s term of office, which runs through February 5, 2015.  Like her predecessor, she is from the United States. 

The ICJ is composed of fifteen judges elected to nine-year terms.  The judges are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council, which vote separately but simultaneously.  The judges’ terms are staggered so that one third of the Court is elected every three years.  ICJ judges are eligible for re-election.  All member states of the ICJ statute may nominate up to four candidates for election.  Judicial candidates are not chosen directly by the government of member states, however, but by each nation’s group of jurists from the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  Each nation has four jurists who may serve as part of an arbitral tribunal under the auspices of the PCA.  These jurists choose their nation’s candidates for the ICJ, up to two of whom may be nationals of their home country.  The ICJ may not have more than one judge from any nation, and although not required to so, the ICJ has always included a judge from each of the permanent members of the Security Council. 

The judges of the ICJ are not representatives or agents of their home nations.  Their duty is to act independently in adjudicating the cases before them.  To ensure judicial independence, judges may not be dismissed except by a unanimous vote of unfitness for office by the other judges of the Court.  No ICJ judge has ever been dismissed. 

Prior to her election to the ICJ, Judge Donoghue served as the Principal Deputy Legal Advisor in the Department of State.  In that capacity, she advised the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials on all aspects of the Department’s international legal work.  Judge Donoghue joined the Department of State in 1984 and served the Department as Deputy Legal Advisor and Assistant Legal Advisor for several offices, among them the offices responsible for African affairs, economic affairs, and oceans and environmental affairs.  She also advised the offices on diplomatic law and litigation matters. 

Judge Donoghue served at the Department of State from 1984 to 1999 and from 2005 to the 2010.  In the interim, she worked as a lawyer for two other government offices.  First, she served as the Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Treasury from 1999 to 2000.  And from 2001 to 2005 she held a number of positions at mortgage insurer Freddie Mac, including Associate General Counsel and General Counsel and Corporate Secretary.  Judge Donoghue enjoyed a distinguished career as an attorney in the federal government.  She has been highly decorated for her work, having received the Presidential Rank Award, the Federal Bar Association’s Younger Federal Lawyer of the Year Award, and the Distinguished Honor Award, the most prestigious award given by the Secretary of State. 

Judge Donoghue earned her J.D. in 1981 from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.  She earned her B.A. in Russian Studies and Biology, with honors, from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1978.  In addition to studying Russian, she has also studied Arabic, French, and Spanish.  Judge Donoghue has been a visiting professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law, and she has been an adjunct professor at both the Georgetown University Law Center and the George Washington University School of Law.  She has also been an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  She has published scholarly articles on foreign sovereign immunity and diplomatic immunity in some of the most prestigious international law journals in the country, including The Yale Journal of International Law and The Columbia Journal of Transnational Law.

On Donoghue’s elevation to the ICJ, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised her as “judicious, fair, an extraordinary international legal counsel, and an excellent choice for the Court.”  Secretary Clinton lauded Judge Donoghue’s work for her at the Department of State, noting that she provided “the very best legal advice on complex and challenging issues we confront on a daily basis.  She sees the hardest issues, and asks the toughest questions.”  Judge Donoghue is widely respected in both the public and private spheres and promises to be a voice of wisdom and experience on the Court.



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© 2011 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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