Remembering and Appreciating Judge Robert A. Katzmann.

AuthorWhite, Joseph

I was making my first vacation trip of the COVID era on June 10, 2021, when I received a call from a close friend, telling me that Bob Katzmann had died.

I imagine thousands of those calls were being made that day, because Bob touched so many people through his involvement in so many positions and projects. He was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999 and served as Chief Judge from September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2020. At the beginning of 2021, he announced that he was taking senior status. As judge and then Chief Judge, he was involved in many major cases and wrote hundreds of opinions, while continuing to write and edit books and articles. These included especially his brilliant book on statutory interpretation, Judging Statutes. (1) But he somehow made time to spearhead major initiatives to improve civic education about the judicial system and to provide legal representation for immigrants.

The first led to the Justice for All program, "to increase public understanding ... of the courts and bring courts closer to the community." (2) The program includes a multimedia civic education center at the Second Circuit's courthouse, which hosts "groups of high school students, many of them racial minorities" who "learn how to do basic legal research online, take part in moot courts, and meet with judges," in order to combat "ignorance about American government and its legal system." (3) To Bob the purpose was not just to "educate" but to encourage students to imagine participating. "When I've done moot courts," he explained, "I take the students back to the robing room and I say, 'Put on the robe[.]' ... And these are often kids of color. I say, 'This could be your future.' And you can really see in their faces, oh yes, this could be their future." (4)

Judge Katzmann's second major project was to improve representation for low-income immigrants facing immigration cases. In a 2007 lecture, he called on major law firms to increase their pro bono contributions and organized a Study Group to find more permanent solutions that "resulted in several path breaking initiatives." But, most significantly, he founded the Immigrant Justice Corps, a fellowship program that "hires, trains, and pays the salaries of recent law school and college graduates to provide high-quality legal assistance and paralegal assistance to immigrants in need. [It has] served over 80,000 clients with a success rate of 93%." (5)

Before his judicial appointment, Bob had been Walsh Professor of Government at Georgetown University with major roles in what would become the McCourt School of Public Policy and in the Georgetown Law Center from 1992 to 1999; and first Research Associate and then Senior Fellow in the Governmental Studies Program of the Brookings Institution from 1981 to 1999. He founded the Governance Institute to organize his many projects on relationships between the judiciary and Congress in 1986 and had some other major responsibilities before he joined the bench. (6)

Bob came to Brookings after clerking with Judge Hugh H. Bownes of the First Circuit, having graduated from Yale Law School in 1980. Before Yale, Bob had first earned his B.A. from Columbia in 1973 (at age 20) and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Government at Harvard, with the doctorate awarded in 1978. He published Regulatory Bureaucracy in 1980--which means he turned his dissertation into a book while in law school. (7)

In short, Judge Katzmann was a superstar, with a remarkable intelligence and energy and discipline to use it. He would not slow down until pancreatic cancer took him. His passing was met by an outpouring of...

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