The result was Justice for All, a civic education multimedia center based at the Second Circuit courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Since 2018, groups of high school students, many of whom are racial minorities, have been visiting the center to learn how to do basic online legal research, participate in mock trials and meet with judges, all with the aim of fight against the general ignorance of the public. about the US government and its legal system. “How can we expect the public to support the judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law when they know so little about it?” Judge Katzmann asked me once.
He was interested not only in educating students about legal power, but also in getting them to share it someday. “When I made plaids, I take the students back to the locker room and tell them, ‘Put on the bathrobe,’” he told me after meeting a group of students. “And they are often colored children. I say, ‘This could be your future.’ And you can really see in their faces, oh yeah, that could be their future. “
Judge Katzmann’s gentle humility was disarming and widely noticed, perhaps due to its relative rarity in the harsh and self-confident culture of the legal world, let alone much of American political life today.
During a conversation in his office, he told me how proud he was of the judicial commitment to impartiality. “This is one of the great advantages of the judiciary. We come from all walks of life, but we play on the same score. The musicians are part of an orchestra; there is a common language. If judges got involved in partisan disputes, we would devalue the institution we serve, and we are very careful to avoid this kind of language and rhetoric.
As someone who writes regularly on the courts, I have found myself skeptical of Judge Katzmann’s faith in an independent judiciary. But he meant it. On our last phone call, he proudly highlighted his 2018 decision for the second full circuit in the Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. – in which the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The Supreme Court upheld this decision in a landmark decision last June. This gratified Judge Katzmann, but perhaps no more than the way he had seduced his colleagues with his own opinion two years earlier. “The vote in this case was 10-3. And in the 10 votes, you have the support of the judges who have been appointed by the Republican presidents. If you look at the dissent, the three, the dissent was written by someone appointed by a Democratic president, ”he told me.
Then he admitted a certain apprehension. “One concern I have is that there may be a perception that the courts are only political actors and that what they do only serves their political sponsors. And I don’t think it’s healthy, ”he said. “Because I don’t think that’s right either.”
If Robert Katzmann’s vision for the judiciary is to be a reality, more judges like him will be needed.