Hon. Robert A. Katzmann ’73, Judge Who Taught the Court’s Process to the Public

The Hon. Robert A. Katzmann ’73, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was a strong advocate for civic education whose most important and beloved project, “Justice for All: Courts and the Community,” continues to bring students and teachers to courtrooms across the Second Circuit to learn more about the rule of law.

“Together, we have a collective responsibility to promote civic education, so that our Constitution and government remain vital for generations to come,” said Katzmann, who died on June 9, 2021. Through Justice for All, students and teachers participate in moot courts, attend and reenact important cases, do legal research and visit the Learning Center in NYC’s Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the program as Katzmann’s legacy. “Bob has opened the doors to the courthouse to students, teachers and the broader community with the goal of increasing public understanding of the courts and bringing the courts closer to the community,” she said in a tribute to Katzmann.

Born on April 22, 1953, in Manhattan and raised in Queens, Katzmann graduated summa cum laude from the College and earned both an M.A. (1976) and a Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard, where he studied with and worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who became a mentor. He earned a J.D. in 1980 from Yale, where he worked on the Yale Law Journal and clerked for Hon. Hugh H. Bownes of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Katzmann taught at Georgetown and was a fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he directed a project on the legal profession and public service. In 1993, Moynihan asked him to serve as his special counsel on the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg LAW’59. “When President Clinton nominated me,” Ginsburg recalled, “Sen. Moynihan thought it would be useful for me to have a savvy, sympathique counselor as I made my way from one senator’s office to another’s. Bob Katzmann was that counselor.”

Thus began a deep, lasting friendship. Katzmann described Ginsburg as “a friend for all seasons, an incomparable friend, to me and to my wife, Jennifer.” And the admiration was reciprocated: It was Ginsburg who administered the oath of office to Katzmann when he was nominated to the Second Circuit in 1999, noting that this “insightful scholar of governance and interbranch relations” would bring “an enormous store of knowledge to his new commission, along with intelligence and personal qualities important in sound judging: an inquiring mind, extraordinary diligence, patience and a readiness to learn and listen.”

Katzmann served as chief judge of the Second Circuit from 2013 to 2020 before taking senior status on January 21, 2021, and was a ranking member of the federal judiciary throughout his tenure. His expertise in judicial-legislative relations made him a natural for early service on the Judicial Conference Committee of the Judicial Branch, which he later chaired. In addition, he served on the Executive Committee of the Conference, an important leadership role, and chaired the Supreme Court Fellows Commission.

Speaking on behalf of the court on Katzmann’s passing, Chief Judge Debra A. Livingston said, “Judge Katzmann led our court through historic challenges, from budget sequester and governmental shutdowns at the beginning of his tenure as chief, to the pandemic, which upended our court’s operations only last spring. Throughout it all, Judge Katzmann provided sure and steady leadership. And more than this, Judge Katzmann, with his commitment to civic education, also had a vision for the circuit — that the judiciary might lend a steadying hand to our democracy by helping to educate the citizenry about the rule of law and the role of judges. His quiet confidence, determination, exceptional leadership and strong sense of justice inspired us all.”

In addition to his wife, Jennifer Callahan, Katzmann is survived by his mother, Sylvia; brothers, Gary ’73, his twin, and Martin ’78; and sister, Susan.

Alex Sachare ’71