New York Law School mourns the passing of one of its most deeply cherished friends, the Honorable Robert A. Katzmann, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Katzmann was one of our nation’s most preeminent jurists and legal scholars, and his historic impact extended far beyond the courtroom.
Judge Katzmann was nominated and confirmed to the Second Circuit in 1999. He became Chief Judge in September 2013, serving until August 2020. This past January, he took Senior status. The breadth of Judge Katzmann’s leadership and professional accomplishments is extraordinary, and befitting his unmatched intelligence, curiosity, knowledge, kindness, and compassion. He led the Second Circuit through immense organizational challenges, and guided the Court through cases with the highest stakes imaginable. Before his judicial appointment, he was renowned nationally for his scholarly expertise and his understanding of the judiciary’s relationship to the legislative branch. As a result, in 1993, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan tasked him with serving as Counselor to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she went through her confirmation process for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they became close friends until her passing in September 2020.
Judge Katzmann’s legacy is felt deeply throughout our law school community, and throughout the nation. Unique among judicial figures of his stature and responsibilities, he provided transformational leadership on legal representation for immigrants and revitalized civics education. He expanded access to justice by leading the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the first-of-its-kind government-funded effort to aid undocumented immigrants with legal representation. He also established the Immigrant Justice Corps, through which recent law graduates, including many NYLS graduates, have provided critical representation to undocumented immigrants.
Judge Katzmann turned his deep concern for the lack of civics instruction in our nation’s classrooms into action, creating “Justice for All: Courts and the Community,” an educational program operating out of the Second Circuit. Through the program, teachers and students visited courtrooms throughout the Second Circuit and participated in a variety of activities to deepen their understanding of our nation’s core civic responsibilities and to bring those lessons back to their schools.
Our School treasured his longstanding friendship, and we were honored to welcome him on campus many times. We had the privilege of awarding him an Honorary Degree and hosting him as the keynote speaker for our 2016 Commencement. He served as our School’s emissary and host as we welcomed two sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices and close friends of his, Justice Ginsburg during our 2018 Shainwald Lecture, and Justice Stephen Breyer, when he received an honorary degree and spoke at our 2018 Commencement. In Judge Katzmann’s introductions of these two historic jurists, his deep affection, respect, and admiration for their roles in safeguarding our democracy was powerfully resonant.
Judge Katzmann was an inspiration for our immigration law students and faculty, and for our close partner the Safe Passage Project. We were also honored to have his leadership and guidance in one of our most recent efforts, furthering interfaith understanding in the legal system in partnership with the Interfaith Center of New York, led by the Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, daughter of close friend Justice Breyer.
Judge Katzmann displayed such uncommon humility, kindness, and generosity in all interactions, and added wisdom and warmth whenever he came to campus. I am grateful to have considered him a personal friend and role model, and I have taken many lessons from him. His advice made me a better dean. And his recognition of NYLS’s mission and appreciation of our history provided us with new inspiration and opportunities for our community. He had an unwavering belief in the role of our judiciary to be stewards to the public beyond the courtroom. We know his legacy will continue for generations to come, and he has set an exceptionally high standard for the entire judiciary, the legal profession, and every American. Our nation is better for his leadership and guidance, and we are eternally grateful. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife Jennifer, his mother Sylvia, his twin brother Judge Gary Katzmann, and his entire family.
Anthony W. Crowell
Dean and President