Andrew Effron, Director of the Military Justice Review Group, was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 1996 and served as Chief Judge from 2006 to 2011. Prior to joining the Court, he held positions in both the legislative and executive branches of the government, including service as the General Counsel and Minority Counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee; as an attorney in the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel; as a judge advocate in the Army; and as a legislative aide in the House of Representatives. As an adjunct professor, Effron has taught courses in military law at the Georgetown University Law Center and appellate practice at the George Washington University Law School. He is a graduate of both Harvard College (1970) and Harvard Law School (1975).
Harvard Political Review: Had you always been politically engaged before coming to Harvard?
Andrew Effron: When I was growing up, the topic of politics was a natural and regular part of our household conversation. My parents were engaged in the civic life of my hometown, Poughkeepsie, NY. My mother, who was involved in charitable activities and local politics, served as chair of the Dutchess County Democratic Women’s Club. My father, who served on the boards of various charities, also served as Chair of Poughkeepsie Parking Authority, a position that often required him to address a variety of competing interests. He was a candidate to serve as a delegate at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and he later ran for the office of city alderman. Although he did not prevail in either election, he regarded both as positive experiences because he believed that our civic life was enhanced through the competition of ideas in the political arena.
HPR: Once you came to Harvard, how did you become involved with the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) at the Institute of Politics (IOP)? Do you have any memories of your time serving on SAC?
AF: I was recruited to be a part of the SAC by people who had been involved in Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Members of SAC provided feedback regarding the IOP Fellows, as well as recommendations for future Fellows and speakers. We also provided recommendations to expand the IOP’s undergraduate offerings. The concept of the Harvard Political Review grew out of those discussions.
HPR: What niche did the HPR fill on campus that hadn’t been filled before?
AF: We sought to provide a forum for articles addressing political issues at the local and national level. The Crimson, which had a crew of excellent writers, frequently addressed political issues, but as a college newspaper, it focused primarily on internal campus matters. Given the widespread and intense conversations among our classmates on matters of national life and world affairs in the sixties, we thought there would be an audience for a magazine devoted exclusively to political issues.
HPR: What exactly were those conversations? What were the large, national issues being debated on campus?
AF: Many conversations focused on the Vietnam War, conscription, civil rights, the electoral campaigns of 1968 and 1970, and the ensuing reforms in the political process, particularly procedures governing presidential primaries and nominating conventions.
HPR: How has your experience at the IOP and the HPR informed your political career?
AF: I’ve had the good fortune of working as a congressional staffer, as an executive branch attorney, and as an appellate judge. The IOP and HPR placed a high value on encouraging vigorous debate, respecting different viewpoints, and providing a forum for a variety of opinions. That experience had a lasting impact on me during my government service, particularly the idea of listening to and valuing the opinions of others.
HPR: What would you say has been your biggest career-related success?
AF: Let me offer some perspective. My parents ran a small children’s clothing store in Poughkeepsie, and the whole family helped out at the store. One day a reporter, who was interviewing my father for a story on Main Street, asked, “Who is the most important customer you’ve ever served?” – apparently expecting him to mention a leader of the political or business community. Without hesitation, my father responded, “The most important customer is the person who walks in and asks for help. To have a successful business based on customer service, I have to focus all my attention on the person who needs help right now, not on the last person or the next person.”
That made a strong impression on me. To the extent I’ve been able to contribute to the success of any governmental activity, I’ve attempted to follow my father’s example and focus on whatever problem I’m working on at that moment.
HPR: Speaking of problems, what problem are you working on right now?
AF: Following my judicial service, I was asked to work on a short-term DOD project, the Military Justice Review Group, which was tasked with identifying potential improvements in military law. The Group issued a report in March 2015, which included specific legislative recommendations for reforms in pretrial, trial, sentencing, and appellate procedures, focusing on transparency, efficiency, and fairness. Following review by the Department of Defense and within the Executive Branch, a legislative proposal was submitted to Congress in December 2015, where it is now undergoing consideration.
HPR: What made you interested in the intersection of the military and law?
AF: On the military side, my father served in the Army during WWII and my mother served as an Army civilian. On the legal side, two of my uncles were attorneys, and one served as both a public defender and legal services lawyer. He often regaled the family with lively descriptions of events in and out of the courtroom. When I discussed entering the military with my family, my father recommended combining my interests in military affairs and the law by considering a service as a military lawyer. After completing law school, I joined the Army as a judge advocate, and was assigned to a basic training post in Alabama. I served approximately half my tour as a trial counsel – a prosecutor — and spent the second half of my tour as a defense counsel.
HPR: The IOP recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary in April. How was it coming back to campus?
AF: Harvard Yard feels very familiar, and at times I expect one of my friends to emerge from Matthews South looking like an 18-year old! But Harvard Square and the area around the Kennedy school have all been modernized, and those places now have a very different feel to me.
Coming back to campus, it was wonderful to greet friends and classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen since college. A special aspect of renewing a friendship from those times is the opportunity carry on a conversation as if you had just seen your friend yesterday.
One of the highlights was meeting you, Joe, and enjoying the spirit of your political involvement and enthusiasm for the history of the HPR. I’ve been following the HPR online, and I read it on a regular basis. To see the latest issue in print — the sophistication of the layout and the articles — is very rewarding. There are not many aspects of life where we get to see our work live on. But as someone who was there at the outset of the HPR, it is heartwarming to see how you and your colleagues have enabled it to grow stronger in influence and expand in quality. You are light years ahead of where we began, and that is just how it should be!
Image credit: Andrew Effron