Rhodes scholar to explore international politics and law

Joshua Pickar, a third-year student at the University of Chicago Law School, has won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford next fall. He is one of 32 American students to earn the prestigious award and the 50th person affiliated with the University of Chicago to do so.

“We are so proud of Josh’s selection for this highly competitive scholarship,” said Thomas J. Miles, dean of the Law School. News of the award was announced Nov. 19. “His studies at the Law School, his membership in two student journals, his participation in several student organizations, as well as his keen interest in international law and politics, make him an ideal choice.” 

Pickar, who plans to complete his law degree in spring 2017, will pursue master’s degrees in global governance and diplomacy, as well as in comparative social policy. Those degrees will help him fulfill his professional interests in international law and politics, he said, particularly his desire to strengthen international legal institutions to protect the world’s most vulnerable individuals.

“I’m interested in how we create international policies that favor human rights and the rule of law, and how human rights and national security bump up against one another,” Pickar said. “My goal is to ensure the creation of an international legal system that vindicates the rights of individuals,” he added, “protecting those whose governments fail them.”

Pickar has worked with asylum seekers at the U.S. Department of Justice, the global law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and at the International Refugee Assistance Program in Chicago. He drafted briefs to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and his advocacy resulted in the successful relocation to the United States of a gay Iraqi man who was persecuted in his homeland because of his sexuality.

At UChicago, he serves as president of the Jessup International Law Moot Court team, which participates in simulated oral arguments before the International Court of Justice, and is part of the Jenner & Block Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy Clinic, which allows students to work on appellate and U.S. Supreme Court cases. Last year he worked on the staff of The University of Chicago Legal Forum and this year is on the staff of The Chicago Journal of International Law.

Those who know Pickar’s work expressed every confidence in his future success. “Josh possesses a deep interest in international institutions and a passion for global justice and the rule of law," said Daniel Abebe, deputy dean of the Law School, who had Pickar in two of his classes. “I have no doubt that, in the near future, he will be a leader in the fight for international human rights.”

Fluent in Russian, French and Spanish and possessing competency in German, Pickar also has studied Arabic and Italian. He said he hopes his language skills, as well as his passion for connecting with others, will position him for work in high-level policy and law, helping to fill what he sees as a gap in global justice: “While domestic judiciaries hold governments accountable through their judgments, no court performs the same function on the international scale,” Pickar said. “In the realms of discrimination, environmental impact and human rights, individuals are often left to the capricious will of their governments.”

A native of Lexington, Mass., Pickar received his bachelor's degree in 2014 from George Washington University, majoring in international affairs and security policy.

“I’m really excited to live abroad and to be in the U.K. at a time when there’s so much changing with international legal institutions and things like Brexit,” Pickar said. “Oxford has fascinating interdisciplinary centers, full of people with similar interests. I’m looking forward to talking with people and hearing what they’re thinking.”

Pickar received guidance and assistance in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship from the College Center for Scholarly Advancement, which supports undergraduates and alumni, as well as graduate candidates for the Rhodes, through the highly competitive application processes for national scholarships and fellowships.