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


As head of the Second Circuit in New York, he supported immigrant rights, judicial transparency, and schooling the public on the law. In 2019, he shocked Trump.

Robert A. Katzman, who as chief justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York helped guarantee legal representation to immigrants, advocated civic education and demystified judicial proceedings to the public, died Wednesday at Manhattan Hospital. died in He was 68 years old.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Jennifer Callahan. He recently assumed senior status on a federal bench when his seven-year term as chief justice ended.

As the son and grandson of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Russia, Judge Katzman was instrumental in establishing the York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a federal law providing legal aid for non-citizens being organized by the authorities. It was the first government funded programme. or another.

“There is a kind of myth in the air that we will improve and the problem will go away,” he said in 2013. “Implementation is an idea.”

The New York project developed in 2014, with support from the anti-poverty group Robin Hood Foundation. Immigrant Justice CorpsThe country’s first fellowship program dedicated to providing competent counseling for immigrants.

A senior US District Court judge, Z.S. “Almost single-handedly he convinced the organized bar to provide free quality representation for thousands of needy immigrants,” Rakoff said. “No judge has ever taken a comprehensive view of the role of a judge in promoting justice in our society, or more successful in turning those ideas into practical achievement.”

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, quoted in the Federal Bar Council Quarterly last year, hailed Judge Katzman as having “an innate sense of justice, ethics and integrity” and calling her “a visionary who brings out the best in people”. said.

In his book “Judgment Statutes” (2014), a primer on how courts should interpret congressional law, Judge Katzman rejects strict textualism, relying entirely and literally on the letter of the law. What he called objectiveism—determining the intention of the drafters by reviewing memos, committee reports, and other documents that led to the law.

“Ignoring such guidance increases the likelihood that a judge will interpret a law with legislative meaning, and potentially in line with the judge’s own intuition and policy preferences,” they wrote. Harvard Law Review In 2016, in response to a review of his book by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who now sits on the Supreme Court.

“The work of a judge is not based on the lofty standard of grand, unified theory, but on the basis of an examination of common sense,” he asserted.

In 2018, Justice Katzman wrote the Second Circuit Court’s majority opinion in Zarda v. Altitude Express that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The following year, 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 allowed a third party to produce non-privileged material in a possible investigation. instructs to do. Crime.

The case Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office relates a summons to Mr. Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA. appeal Court Mr Trump’s request rejected To block the summons, which asked for eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns.

The decisions of both Zarda and Trump were confirmed by the United States Supreme Court.

In 2017, Judge Katzman, a consensus builder, issued a rare dissent when a Second Circuit court dismissed a District Court judge in Watson v. United States that a US citizen who was wrongfully detained for 1,273 days was taken, he was not entitled to sue. for loss to the government as they did not file their claim in time.

Even as a boy he sought to engage himself in civil affairs. When he was nine, he wrote to President John F. Kennedy on behalf of members of the Seneca tribe, who had lost their territory to a flood control project. As a second-grader, Mayor Robert F. In a letter to Wagner Jr., he complained about a problematic traffic light in his Queens neighborhood.

Widely credited as the first federal judge to hold a doctoral degree in government, he believed that justice should be blind, but the process of accomplishing it should be transparent.

To that end, in 2014, he and U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero launched the Committee on Civic Education, which concluded Justice for All: Courts and Communities, an educational initiative to make the judicial system more accessible. During the pandemic, the audio of the courtroom session was live-streamed for the first time.

“What I really wanted to do was bring our courts and our communities together,” Judge Katzman told the York Law Journal last year. “If I had to say what my signature initiative is, if anyone could ever talk like this, it would be it.”

Robert Alan Katzman was born on April 22, 1953, in Manhattan, eight minutes before his identical twin brother, Gary. Judge Gary Katzman was appointed to the United States Court of International Trade in 2016 after serving as an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

In addition to his wife, who is an artist and twin brothers, his survivors include two other siblings, Susan Horner and Martin Katzman. Judge Katzman lived in Manhattan.

His grandfather died in Nazi Germany during the Kristalnacht pogrom in 1938. His father, John, an electrical engineer, and his grandmother, arrived in the United States in March 1941. His mother, Sylvia (Butner) Katzman, who was born in Brooklyn, was a homemaker.

Justice Sotomayor said their parents instilled in the Katzman children a “centrality to treat people with respect and kindness.”

After graduating from Forest Hills High School in Queens, Robert received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1973 and a master’s and doctorate in government from Harvard, where he was teaching assistant to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who soon became He was about to become a United States Senator. from New York and who would later recommend him to the federal bench. He received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1980.

After clerking for Judge Hugh H. Bones 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 professor of law at Georgetown University.

Before being nominated to the District Court by President Bill Clinton in 1999, Judge Katzman’s only previous federal job was working one summer at the post office. He had never practiced law regularly. He served as the Chief Justice of the Second Circuit Court from 2013 to last August.

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

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

in one Interview on C-SPAN In 2014, Judge Katzman provided some insight into how he decided a case.

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

Since federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, he was asked how long he expected to remain on the bench.

“As long as my mind is working, I would love to stay,” he replied.

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