A proud graduate of New York City’s public schools, Robert A. Katzmann, born in Manhattan, grew up in Queens. His father, John, was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and is now a retired engineer; his mother, Sylvia, a homemaker, is a Brooklyn-born daughter of Russian immigrants. In 1999, Katzmann was appointed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and on September 1, 2013 became its chief judge.
Katzmann’s interest in government and law began as a child, when he and his twin brother, also now a judge, devoured biographies of presidents and history accounts of the United States, and his family took trips to Washington, D.C. Although he was always interested in a career in the law, a chance comment from a college professor, concerned that Katzmann as a commuting student had not had a real campus experience, led him to apply to graduate school before law school.
After receiving his AB degree summa cum laude from Columbia College, Katzmann obtained his AM and Ph.D degrees in government from Harvard University, where he studied with and worked for then-professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and also with James Q. Wilson and Richard E. Neustadt. Katzmann then attended Yale Law School; he was an article and book review editor of the
Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Judge Hugh H. Bownes of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Judge Katzmann joined the Brookings Institution. In Washington, D.C., where he lived and worked from 1981 to 1999, projects at Brookings, teaching at Georgetown, government projects, and writing consumed his energies. Much of his pre-bench work focused on the challenges of governing, on the way that our institutions operate, and steps towards the more effective functioning of government. At the time of his judicial appointment in 1999, Katzmann was Walsh Professor of Government, Professor of Law, and Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University; a fellow of the Governmental Studies Program of the Brookings Institution, having served a term as acting director; and president of the Governance Institute.
In 1993, Senator Moynihan asked then-professor Katzmann to serve as special counsel on the confirmation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; it was an assignment Katzmann greatly enjoyed although his labor was hardly needed, so prepared was she. Senator Moynihan also appointed him to his advisory committee on federal district court and United States attorney appointments, and as special counsel pro bono to the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy.
Reflecting his law and political science background – he is the first judge of the federal courts with a doctorate in government -- Katzmann has long had an interest in judicial-legislative relations. That interest deepened in 1984 when Judge Frank M. Coffin, then chair of the United States Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch, asked him to help examine those relations. In time, he and Judge Coffin created, with some colleagues, the Governance Institute as the vehicle for that work. As editor and contributing author, Katzmann produced
Judges and Legislators. Before joining the federal bench, he wrote Courts and Congress. His involvement in legislative-judicial relations continues as a judge, as a former chair, by appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts, and still member of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch. More recently, his experience as a judge led him to write
Judging Statutes (Oxford University Press, 2014; paperback, 2016), which offers a succinct critique of a purely textualist approach to the interpretation of legislation.
In his early years on the bench, Judge Katzmann witnessed the inadequate legal representation of non-citizens and its adverse impact on the fair and effective administration of justice. Greatly concerned, in 2007 he delivered the Marden Lecture of the New York City Bar Association, “The Legal Profession and the Unmet Needs of the Immigrant Poor,” and, inspired by the enthusiastic response, soon after organized an interdisciplinary Study Group on Immigrant Representation. He sparked the creation, in 2014, of the non-profit Immigrant Justice Corps, the country’s first fellowship program for recent law school and college graduates, dedicated to meeting the need for high-quality legal assistance for immigrants.
A project of his tenure to date as chief judge is the year-long commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Second Circuit, chaired by Judge Richard C. Wesley. Judge Katzmann has also launched a circuit-wide initiative involving all federal courts – “Justice For All: Courts and the Community” -- to increase public understanding of the federal judiciary The initiative, which he cochairs with Southern District Judge Victor Marrero, encompasses a variety of activities and programs and is principally intended for students of all ages.
In addition to his books on judicial-congressional relations, Judge Katzmann is the author of:
Regulatory Bureaucracy; Institutional Disability; co-editor of Managing Appeals in Federal Court; editor and contributing author of
The Law Firm and the Public Good; and editor and contributing author of
Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life.
Since 2001 he has taught an administrative law class at New York University School of Law.
His honors include the Learned Hand Medal for Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence of the Federal Bar Council, the Green Bag award for legal writing, the Charles E. Merriam Award of the American Political Science Association, and honorary degrees. He has served on many judicial and governmental committees, and on law school boards.
His wife, Jennifer, is a filmmaker and writer/editor.