Law Professors

Don’t call him 'sir': Law prof reflects on receiving honorary knight award from the UK

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Philip Bobbitt. Photo by Rick Patrick.

Philip Bobbitt, a Columbia Law School professor, is not sure when the ceremonies will take place in recognition of him being awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. At the moment, most of his time is taken up looking after his four young children, and they have different titles for him.

“Imagine the word ‘dad’ stretched out into very long syllables,” he says when asked about a title.

“Around here, I mainly answer to, ‘Hey, you,’” says the constitutional law professor.

However, one title that he won’t be getting is “sir”—only British citizens receive the “sir” or “dame” title. Nevertheless, he still expects to get the royal treatment—primarily in the form of two upcoming, in-person receptions. One will be in New York, and one will be in England. He’s not sure which member of the royal family will be at the receptions, though.

“I’m thinking one of the corgis,” says Bobbitt, a nephew of President Lyndon B. Johnson. As a teenager, Bobbitt spent the summer of 1964 living with family at the White House.

According to a June news release, the “honorary knighthood” recognizes Bobbitt’s “services to UK/US relations and public life.” His work includes working as the Department of State’s counselor on international law, the U.S. Senate Iran-Contra committee’s legal counsel and the National Security Council’s senior director of strategic planning. He also was on the CIA’s external advisory board.

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretaries of state, had accolades for Bobbitt.

“He has been a staunch, steadfast and often passionate advocate for the USA/U.K. relationship, someone who combines the highest standards of intellectual thought and scholarship with a strong set of values and principles. He has been always a great friend to our nation and thoroughly deserves this recognition,” Blair said in the news release.

Other U.S. citizens to receive an honorary knighthood include businessman Michael Bloomberg, fashion designer Ralph Lauren and former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

In a 2008 New York Observer profile, a Columbia law student described Bobbitt as someone with “a James Bondian kind of quality.” The piece noted that the professor lived on Park Avenue, smoked cigars and sponsored a Library of Congress poetry contest in honor of his late mother, Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt.

He’s now married to Maya Bobbitt, a senior associate with Vinson & Elkins. They split their time between New York, London and Austin, Texas, where he is also a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

Besides having a law degree from Yale University, Bobbitt has a PhD from Oxford University. He’s written several books, and he also edited the 2018 edition of Impeachment: A Handbook, a book written by the late constitutional law professor Charles Black.

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