For nearly 30 years, Professor Stephen J. Ellmann was an influential, prolific, and beloved scholar at NYLS. He wrote often about the struggle for human rights around the world, from the American South, where he began his career as a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, to South Africa, a country he came to know and love deeply.
Shortly before his death in March 2019, Professor Ellmann finished his masterwork: a biography of the late Judge Arthur Chaskalson, the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court and Professor Ellmann’s longtime friend.
And Justice For All: Arthur Chaskalson and the Struggle for Equality in South Africa (New South Books, 2020) chronicles Judge Chaskalson’s work to advance human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The book is available for pre-order now and will be published in March 2020.
Professor Ellmann’s wife, Teresa Delcorso-Ellmann, lovingly shepherded the manuscript through the final stages of publication.
“South Africa does not have a tradition of producing judicial biographies as we do in the United States, and the fact that Steve chose to follow that tradition in writing about Arthur is meaningful to South Africans,” she said.
On November 12, the book’s South African publishers, Pan Macmillan and Exclusive Books, hosted a launch party in Johannesburg, South Africa. The standing-room-only event was attended by Delcorso-Ellmann and numerous friends, including Geoff Budlender, a well-respected South African human rights advocate who worked for President Nelson Mandela and co-founded the Legal Resources Centre.
Though Professor Ellmann was on medical leave as he worked to complete And Justice for All, he stayed in close touch with his NYLS colleagues.
In February 2019, he visited campus to talk about the book and reminisce with friends. Professor Penelope Andrews, his longtime close colleague who grew up in South Africa, led the discussion. The pair jointly founded the South African Reading Group more than two decades ago, and she recently reestablished it as Co-Director of NYLS’s Racial Justice Project.
Professor Ellmann also invoked Judge Chaskalson in his remarks to NYLS’s Class of 2018 at Commencement. That year, he received NYLS’s President’s Medal for his decades of contributions to the School. He urged graduates to connect their clinical education—another major focus of his career—with broader social justice goals.
“We trust that our law has some measure of definiteness and stability,” he said in those remarks. “Now that may not seem like a big deal, but in South Africa, lawyers like Arthur Chaskalson used that kind of principle, some measure of definiteness and stability, to fight back against apartheid in the courts of South Africa itself. … Arthur saw human dignity as a key constitutional value embedded in the law and as a mandate for transformation. … And many of you who took part in New York Law School’s own clinics have already had the experience of using law, the rule of law, to promote justice here at home.”
Continuing Professor Ellmann’s Work
The Stephen J. Ellmann Fellowship, established in 2019, allows committed students to serve as Judicial Fellows in South Africa. The 2020 issue of New York Law School Magazine profiles inaugural Ellmann Fellows Tammy Tran ’19 and Jennifer Kuhn 3L. Stay tuned!