Robert Destro


  • Columbus School of Law
  • Expertise

  • International Human Rights
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Speech
  • and Association
  • Bioethics
  • Robert A. Destro is Professor of Law at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has been a member of the CUA Law faculty since 1982, served as Interim Dean from 1999-2001, and as Director of the University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies from 2017-2019.

    President Donald J. Trump nominated him to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment on September 18, 2019. As Assistant Secretary, he led the State Department’s worldwide policy and foreign assistance programs on human rights and democracy issues such as free and fair elections, Internet freedom, and the growth of the surveillance state. His work on labor issues focused on State Department and inter-agency efforts to ensure that business supply chains do not include goods or services produced by slave or forced labor. He also served as the State Department’s Special Representative for Tibetan Issues.

    In the domestic sphere, Professor Destro has been an advisor to churches and religious organizations from a variety of religious traditions, and is regularly involved in cases raising civil rights issues from free speech and free exercise, to employment law and tax policy. From 2004-2006, he served as Special Counsel to then-Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, on voting rights and election security issues. From 1983 to 1989, he served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, where he led the Commission's discussions in the areas of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin and religion. From 1977-1982, he served as General Counsel to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and from 1975-1977, was an associate at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Cleveland. With Michael S. Ariens, he was co-author of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN A PLURALISTIC SOCIETY (2d ed. 2001), and is a prolific writer on legal issues.

    Professor Destro was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1972 from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his law degree (J.D.) in 1975 from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an active member of the Bar in Ohio and an inactive member of the Bar in California. Professor Destro lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife Brenda. They have two adult children, Gina and Mark.

    Research and Writing


    Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1996 (with Michael S. Ariens).


    "Agostini and the Politics of the Establishment Clause," In Vouchers for School Choice: Challenge or Opportunity? - An American Jewish Reappraisal, 1998.

    "The History of the 'Wall of Separation': Church and State in Constitutional Tradition," In Vouchers for School Choice: Challenge or Opportunity? - An American Jewish Reappraisal, 1998.

    "Equal Treatment: Implications for Nonprofit Organizations." In Equal Treatment of Religion in a Pluralistic Society by Stephen V. Monsma and Christopher Soper. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

    "Citizenship and Community: Legacy and Challenge." Law and the Free Society. Latrobe, Pa.: Center for Economic and Policy Education, 1998, 57.

    "Gangs and Civil Rights." In Gangs: The Origins and Impact of Contemporary Youth Gangs in the United States, edited by Scott Cummings and Daniel J. Monti. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

    "Work: The Human Environment." In Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, edited by George Weigel and Robert Royal. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 1993.

    "A Non-Discrimination and Democratic Pluralism Perspective on the Role of Parental Choice in the Debate Over Educational Equity." In Search of a National Morality, edited by William B. Ball. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.

    "Laborem Exercens." In A Century of Catholic Social Thought: Essays on 'Rerum Novarum' and Nine Other Key Documents, edited by G. Weigel and R. Royal . Lanham, MD.: University Publications of America, 1991.

    "Target the Elderly: A Nondiscrimination Perspective on Daniel Callahan's 'Setting Limits'." In Set No Limits: A Rebuttal to Daniel Callahan's Proposal to Limit Health Care for the Elderly. Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

    "Guaranteeing a Minimum Quality of Life Through Law: The Emerging Right to a Good Life." In Guaranteeing the Good Life: Medicine and the Return to Eugenics, edited by R. J. Neuhaus. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 1990.

    "Constitutional Aspects of Medical Care Discrimination Against Children With Disabilities." In Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights: Medical Care Discrimination Against Children With Disabilities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.

    "Images of Community in the Constitutional Law of Religious Liberty." In Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs Annual. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 1989.

    "Libertad Religiosa, Igualidad y No Discriminacion En Las Sistemas Juridicos Norteamericano y Espanol: Consideraciones Criticas." In Las Relaciones Entre La Iglesia y El Estado: Estudios En Memoria Del Professor Pedro Lombardia. Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1989.

    "Apostolic Nuncio.", In New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 18 (1987).

    "The Family and Public Policy." In The Family Today and Tomorrow. Braintree, Massachusetts: Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, 1985.

    "Religion: Establishment, Free Exercise and Abortion: The Role of Religion in the Abortion Controversy." In New Perspectives on Human Abortion, edited by D. Horan. Lanham, MD: University Publications of America, 1981.


    "The Supreme Court, the 'Facts of Life,' and the Moral Sensibilities of 'the Thoughtful Part of the Nation': A Review Essay of Liberty and Sexuality by David Garrow." Human Life Review 20 (1994): 28.

    "Review of Disability Discrimination in the Workplace by Gary Phelan and Janet B. Atherton." Trial 29, no. 9 (1993): 79.

    "Review of Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace: The Religious Liberty Clauses and the American Public Philosophy by James D. Hunter and O. Guinness." Christian Legal Society Quarterly 11 (Summer 1990): 16.

    "Review of Government by Judiciary by Raoul Berger." Human Life Review 4 (Fall, 1978).


    "Regime des cultes et liberte religieuse en Europe: relectures americanes" (in French) "An American Perspective on Religious Liberty and Government Regulation of Religion in Europe." Journal of the Faculty of Law, Universite Catholique de Louvain. (2000).

    "Is Roe v. Wade Obsolete?" Human Life Review 24 (Summer 1998): 55.

    "Religious Freedom in the Courts: The 1996-1997 Term of the United States Supreme Court." European Journal for Church and State Research (Summer 1998).

    "Litigating Constitutional Defenses to Tort Claims: Do the Courts Take the First Amendment Seriously?" Catholic Lawyer 37 (Summer 1997): 101.

    "Whom Do You Trust?: Judicial Independence, the Power of the Purse and the Line-Item Veto." Federal Lawyer 44, no. 1 (January 1997): 26.

    "'By What Right??: The Sources and Limits of Federal Court and Congressional Jurisdiction Over Matters 'Touching' Religion." Indiana Law Review 29, no. 1 (1996): 1.

    "Developments in Liability Theories and Defenses." Catholic Lawyer 37, no. 2 (1996): 83.

    "ABA and AALS Accreditation: What's 'Religious Diversity' Got To Do With It?" Marquette Law Review 78 (Winter 1995): 427.

    "The Structure of the Religious Liberty Guarantee." Journal of Law and Religion 11, no. 1 (1995): 355.

    "The Scope of the Fourteenth Amendment Liberty Interest: Does the Constitution Encompass a Right to Define Oneself Out of Existence? An Exchange of Views With John A. Powell, Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union." Issues in Law & Medicine 10 (Fall 1994): 183.

    "Does the Constitution Encompass a Right to Define Oneself Out of Existence? An Exchange of Views." Issues in Law & Medicine 10 (1994): 183.

    "Hostages in the 'Hood.' "Arizona Law Review 36, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 785.

    "Making Ourselves Understood." Quarterly-Christian Legal Society 10 (Winter 1990): 16.

    "Federalism: Reconciling a 'Human Life and 'States' Rights Approach to Legal Protection of the Unborn." Human Life Review 15 (1990): 77.

    "Questions of Race: Where Does Justice Lie?" New Zealand Law Journal 1989 (September 1989): 318 (with N.H. Gerritsen).

    "Developments in the Law of Church-State Relations: The 1987 Term of the United States Supreme Court." Anuario De Derecho Eclesiastico Del Estado (1989).

    "'The Religious Foundations of Civil Rights Law' and the Study of Law and Religion in an Interdisciplinary Framework." Journal of Law and Religion 5 (Winter 1987): 39.

    "Equality, Social Welfare and Equal Protection." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 9 (Winter 1986): 51.

    "Pastoral Politics and Public Policy: Reflections on the Legal Aspects of the Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace." Journal of Law and Religion 4 (Winter 1986): 25.

    "Quality-of-Life Ethics and Constitutional Jurisprudence: The Demise of Natural Rights and Equal Protection for the Disabled and Incompetent." Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy 2 (Spring 1986): 71.

    "Religious Freedom During the 1985-1986 Supreme Court Term: Adrift on Troubled Waters." Religious Freedom Reporter 6 (1986): 481.

    "The Legal Activities of the Catholic League." Catholic Lawyer 27 (Summer 1982): 224.

    "Necessary Medical Care for the Retarded Child: The Case of Philip Becker." Human Life Review 6 (Fall, 1980): 81.

    "Social Values and the Federal Judiciary: The 'Least Dangerous Branch' Unleashed." Human Life Review 6 (Spring 1980): 37.

    "The Worldly Court." Columbia Magazine: July, 1979 13.

    "Foreword to the Symposium: Research on the Fetus." Villanova Law Review 37 (1977): 297.

    "Abortion and the Constitution: The Need for a Life-Protective Amendment," California Law Review 63 (1975): 1250.