20 years later: Remembering and responding to 9/11

On the morning of September 11, 2001, students, administrators, and faculty streamed out of NYU Law buildings into the streets and crowded onto the D’Agostino Hall terrace to bear horrified witness to the smoke and flames billowing from the World Trade Center, just a mile and a half south. Beginning on that infamous morning, as the twin towers collapsed and Law School students went out to donate blood for those at Ground Zero, the NYU Law community responded with efforts to address the complex issues and critical problems exposed by coordinated terrorist acts that wrought destruction in New York; Pennsylvania; and the Washington, DC, area. 

At first, those actions were necessarily local and immediate. Articles in the student newspaper The Commentator and NYU Law Magazine documented the Law School’s first reactions. NYU President Emeritus John Sexton, then the Law School’s dean, walked the halls to engage in conversation with members of the NYU Law community. A full audience gathered in Greenberg Lounge on September 14 for a faculty panel discussion focused on potential international legal issues arising from the events of 9/11. Students helped organize and distribute supplies at the Javits Center for people affected by the World Trade Center tragedy, and volunteered their legal services to small businesses downtown facing the challenges of reopening. Jonathan Bing ’95 coordinated a hotline set up by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to facilitate the pro bono work of lawyers assisting 9/11 victims and their survivors.

Groundbreaking of Furman Hall
Groundbreaking of Furman Hall, September 28, 2001

On September 28, the groundbreaking ceremony for Furman Hall, attended by US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, marked the first major construction groundbreaking in New York City after 9/11. In her remarks, O’Connor observed that “the need for lawyers does not diminish in times of crisis. It only increases. New York University School of Law has played, and will continue to play, an important role in training lawyers who understand the need to convince a sometimes hostile world that our dream of a society that conforms to the rule of law is a dream we all should share.” 

In January 2002, an all-day conference at the Law School titled “Islam and America in the Global World,” which examined the troubled relationship between the United States and Islamic nations, included participants Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Law School scholarship has continued to probe the background and repercussions of the 9/11 attacks. The Reiss Center on Law and Security, founded in 2003 as the Center on Law and Security, focuses on national security challenges, which have been profoundly affected by what happened in 2001. Between 2005 and 2011, the center’s Terrorist Trial Report Card database tracked cases against alleged terrorists since 9/11 and analyzed both the effectiveness of the “war on terror” and shifts in how the Justice Department pursued those crimes. The War Powers Resolution Reporting Project, a searchable database published by the center in 2020, incorporates more than 100 reports submitted by presidents to Congress to assess the balance of powers between government branches in the context of military deployment abroad. This week, the center is mounting an online symposium, “How Perpetual War Has Changed Us: Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.”

9/11 Memorial Plaque
9/11 memorial, Vanderbilt Hall courtyard

In September 2005, the Law School dedicated a fountain in the Vanderbilt Hall courtyard to remember the NYU Law alumni who lost their lives at the World Trade Center: Daniel Brandhorst LLM ’93, Mark Brisman ’92, Carol Keyes Demitz ’77, John Perry ’89, Christopher Quackenbush ’82, and Clarin Siegel Schwartz LLM ’78.

Martin Lipton ’55, a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, announced just days after 9/11 that the firm would establish a $5 million scholarship fund at NYU for the dependents of emergency response workers who died in the attacks. Later, both Kenneth Feinberg ’70 and Sheila Birnbaum ’65 served as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. (Michael Keaton plays Feinberg in Worth, a movie about Feinberg’s experience as special master that premiered last week on Netflix.) 

In her keynote address at NYU Law’s Annual Alumni Luncheon in 2014, Birnbaum recalled listening to emotional testimony from a claimant. “It was so heart-wrenching,” she said. “It was like this event had happened yesterday. And though for us it’s 13 years since 9/11, for people that were there, for people that were on the pile, for the first responders, for the construction workers, for the maintenance workers, for the people who lived in the neighborhood, for many of them it’s as real today as it was then.”

“NYU Remembers: A Gathering to Reflect on 20 Years Since 9/11” takes place on September 10, 2021, at 5:30 p.m. at the Kimmel Center. Dean Trevor Morrison will be among those reading aloud the names of NYU alumni who lost their lives. The event will also be accessible online.

Posted September 10, 2021