The Fordham Law community remembers Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upon his passing on June 9, 2021.
Katzmann—whose twin brother, Judge Gary Katzmann, is a judge on the Court of International Trade—was born on April 22, 1953, in Manhattan. He grew up in Queens and was a proud graduate of New York City’s public schools. The only federal jurist with both a law degree and a doctorate in political science, Judge Katzmann was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton and served as chief judge from 2013 to 2020. He took senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in January 2021.
Throughout his career, he authored many important decisions and court opinions, including Vance v. Trump and Altitude Express v. Zarda. Highly respected as a jurist, Judge Katzmann was a leader in bringing attention to improving immigrants’ access to representation in the U.S. judicial system.
Judge Katzmann was a familiar face on the Lincoln Center campus, serving as a Robert L. Levine distinguished lecturer since 2009. He appeared at conferences and symposia, frequently met with Fordham Law students as a guest speaker in classes, and judged the final rounds of moot court competitions. He also continued to connect with the law school’s faculty and students after the pandemic struck by participating remotely in Fordham Law events.
Dean Matthew Diller remarked: “Judge Katzmann’s accomplishments are amazing. He was a leading jurist, a renowned scholar and a great public citizen, committed to justice for those most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. But beyond that, he treated every individual he came across with kindness and respect, recognizing the common humanity that we all share. The Fordham Law community mourns his loss.”
The son of John Katzmann, a refugee from Nazi Germany and an engineer, and Sylvia Katzmann, a homemaker and the Brooklyn-born daughter of Russian immigrants, Judge Katzmann felt a personal connection to the issue of immigrant legal justice. His 2007 Marden lecture on the lack of immigrant representation in deportation proceedings at the New York City Bar Association sparked a movement that led to the establishment of the Immigrant Justice Corps, is a fellowship program for recent law school and college graduates that helps meet the need for high-quality legal assistance for immigrants.
In 2008, Judge Katzmann organized the Study Group on Immigrant Representation, which was a working group that focused on identifying and solving challenges of inadequate counsel for immigrants. The Study Group’s first public program was held at Fordham Law in 2009, and Judge Katzmann delivered the keynote address at the Law School at a 2018 event marking the 10th anniversary of the project.
The Study Group’s efforts led to the creation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project that launched five years later. Judge Katzmann also launched a Second Circuit initiative known as “Justice For All: Courts and the Community,” which increased public understanding of the court system and further connected courts with their communities.
Fordham Law also worked closely with Judge Katzmann in 2016, when he served as chief judge, as part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Second Circuit’s establishment. That collaboration resulted in the publication of a Fordham Law Review issue that analyzed key areas of Second Circuit jurisprudence.
“Judge Katzmann was an extraordinarily kind, loving, and generous human being,” said Professor Andrew Kent, one of Judge Katzmann’s former law clerks. “He had so much more to give—to his family, friends, and the world. This is a grievous loss.”
Earlier this year, Judge Katzmann introduced Diller when he delivered his keynote speech at the 56th Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Lecture on Feb. 9—titled “Stress-Testing American Democracy: An Initial Assessment of the Health of our Democratic Institutions in the Trump Era.”
Judge Katzmann also delivered last year’s commencement address for the class of 2020 during the Law School’s first-ever virtual diploma ceremony. His message to the 565 graduates was one filled with optimism—reassuring them that they were well-equipped to deal with unpredictabilities, thanks in part to the skills they gained after navigating the early days and challenges of the pandemic.
“Addressing you today is a special privilege because I have the conviction that not only will you succeed in whatever you do—as lawyers in private practice, or in government, or in business, or in non-profits, or in academia,” Judge Katzmann said in his address on May 18, 2020. “But, you will also point all of us to a better way, having endured the current crisis. … When you help someone in legal need, when you serve the ideals of fairness and justice for all, you can make all the difference, a tangible difference for that client, that client’s family.”