Robert Katzmann, U.S. Judge With Reach Beyond the Bench, Dies at 68

Robert A. Katzmann, who as chief choose of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York helped assure authorized illustration to immigrants, championed civic schooling and demystified judicial proceedings for the public, died on Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 68.

The trigger was pancreatic most cancers, his spouse, Jennifer Callahan, mentioned. He had not too long ago assumed senior standing on the federal bench when his seven-year time period as chief choose ended.

As the son and grandson of Jewish refugees who fled Germany and Russia, Judge Katzmann was instrumental in the institution of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the first government-funded program of authorized help for noncitizens who have been being held by the authorities below one federal regulation or one other.

“There’s kind of a myth in the air that we’ll have reform and the problem will go away,” he instructed The New York Times in 2013. “Implementation tends to be an afterthought.”

With the help of the antipoverty group the Robin Hood Foundation, the New York mission developed in 2014 into the Immigrant Justice Corps, the nation’s first fellowship program devoted to offering competent counsel for immigrants.

“Almost single-handedly he convinced the organized bar to provide free quality representation for thousands of needy immigrants,” mentioned Jed S. Rakoff, a senior U.S. District Court Judge. “No judge ever took a broader view of the role of a judge in promoting justice in our society, or was more successful in turning those views into practical accomplishment.”

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, quoted final yr in the Federal Bar Council Quarterly, hailed Judge Katzmann as having “an innate sense of justice, morality and integrity” and referred to as him “a visionary who brings out the best in people.”


Judge Katzmann presiding over the largest naturalization ceremony ever held on Ellis Island, in 2016. “Almost single-handedly he convinced the organized bar to provide free quality representation for thousands of needy immigrants,” a fellow choose mentioned.Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

In his ebook “Judging Statutes” (2014), a primer on how the courts ought to interpret congressional laws, Judge Katzmann rejected strict textualism, which depends solely and actually on the letter of the regulation, in favor of what he referred to as purposivism — figuring out the drafters’ intent by reviewing memos, committee studies and different paperwork that led to the writing of a regulation.

“Ignoring such guidance increases the probability that a judge will construe a law at odds with legislative meaning, and potentially more in line with the judge’s own intuitions and policy preferences,” he wrote in the Harvard Law Review in 2016, in response to a evaluate of his ebook by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who now sits on the Supreme Court.

“A judge’s work takes place not on the lofty plane of grand, unified theory, but on the ground of commonsense inquiry,” he asserted.

In 2018, Justice Katzmann wrote the Second Circuit courtroom’s majority opinion in Zarda v. Altitude Express that the 1964 Civil Rights Act barred employment discrimination on the foundation of sexual orientation.

The subsequent yr, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, he held in Trump v. Vance that the president of the United States was not immune from a state grand jury subpoena that directs a 3rd occasion to provide nonprivileged materials in its investigation of potential crimes.

The case involved a subpoena to Mr. Trump’s accounting agency, Mazars USA, from the workplace of the Manhattan district lawyer, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The appeals courtroom rejected Mr. Trump’s request to dam the subpoena, which sought eight years of his private and company tax returns.

Both the Zarda and Trump rulings have been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.

In 2017, Judge Katzmann, a consensus builder, issued a uncommon dissent when the Second Circuit courtroom, overruling a District Court choose, mentioned in Watson v. United States U.S. citizen who had been wrongfully detained for 1,273 days was not entitled to sue the authorities for damages as a result of he had not filed his declare in a well timed method.

Even as a boy he sought to interact himself in civic affairs. When he was 9 he wrote to President John F. Kennedy on behalf of members of the Seneca tribe who had misplaced their territory to a flood management mission. As a second-grader, in a letter to Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr., he complained a couple of problematic visitors gentle in his Queens neighborhood.

Widely credited as the first federal choose to carry a doctoral diploma in authorities, he believed that whereas justice must be blind, the technique of meting it out ought to be clear.

ImageJudge Katzmann giving college students a tour of the Second Circuit’s courtroom in Lower Manhattan in 2016.Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To that finish, in 2014, he and U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero launched the Committee on Civic Education, which culminated in Justice For All: Courts and the Community, an academic initiative to make the judicial system extra accessible. During the pandemic, audio of courtroom classes have been live-streamed for the first time.

“What I really wanted to do was bring our courts and our communities closer together,” Judge Katzmann instructed The New York Law Journal final yr. “If I had to say what is my signature initiative, if one can ever talk that way, it would be that.”

Robert Allen Katzmann was born on April 22, 1953, in Manhattan eight minutes forward of his an identical twin brother, Gary. Judge Gary Katzmann was appointed to the United States Court of International Trade in 2016 after serving as an affiliate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

In addition to his spouse, who’s an artist, and twin brother, his survivors embody two different siblings, Susan Horner and Martin Katzmann. Judge Katzmann lived in Manhattan.

His paternal grandfather died in Nazi Germany in 1938 throughout the Kristallnacht pogrom. His father, John, an electrical engineer, and his grandmother arrived in the United States in March 1941. His mom, Sylvia (Butner) Katzmann, who was born in Brooklyn, was a homemaker.

His mother and father instilled in the Katzmann youngsters the “centrality of treating people with dignity and kindness,” Justice Sotomayor mentioned.

After graduating from Forest Hills High School in Queens, Robert earned a bachelor’s diploma from Columbia University in 1973 and a grasp’s and doctorate in authorities from Harvard, the place he was a instructing assistant to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was quickly to grow to be a United States senator from New York and who would later suggest him for the federal bench. He obtained a regulation diploma from Yale Law School in 1980.

After clerking for Judge Hugh H. Bownes of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, he was a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington from 1981 to 1999 and a regulation professor at Georgetown University.

Before he was nominated for the Circuit Court by President Bill Clinton in 1999, Judge Katzmann’s solely earlier federal job was working in a submit workplace one summer time. He had by no means repeatedly practiced regulation. He served as chief choose of the Second Circuit courtroom from 2013 by final August.

Chief Justice John Roberts appointed him chairman of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch, and he was a professor at the New York University School of Law.

ImageJudge Katzmann in his workplace in 2016 in the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in Manhattan. He had not too long ago assumed senior standing on the federal bench when his seven-year time period as chief choose of the Second Circuit ended.Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

As a descendant of immigrants, Judge Katzmann presided over the largest naturalization ceremony ever held on Ellis Island and the first naturalization ceremony to be held on the rebuilt World Trade Center web site in Manhattan.

In an interview on C-SPAN in 2014, Judge Katzmann supplied some perception into how he determined a case.

“I don’t really think about being reversed by the Supreme Court,” he mentioned. “I think about trying to follow the law where the precedents direct me to go in a certain direction and where the precedents don’t.”

Since Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, he was requested how lengthy he hoped to stay on the bench.

“I’d love to stay on as long as my brain is working,” he replied.