Wegman and NYT on Judge Katzmann

I noted this on Twitter, but there is a really important opinion piece at the NYT by Jesse Wegman on Judge Robert Katzmann, who passed away this week far too early at age 68. Usually, when NYT or WaPo etc. are brought up they are being bashed, but not today. Jesse Wegman has penned a magnificent, and compact, honor to Judge Katzmann, and you should read it.

I will not overly quote it because I want you to go read Jesse’s work. Suffice it to say that most of the world knows Robert Katzmann as the dissenting judge in a 2-1 2nd
Circuit opinion on Brady v. NFL, the Deflategate opinion, that got it right. But he was so much more than that. One of the most brilliant of judges, and best writers, of a couple of generations. Yes, the exact kind of judge you want on the bench. As Mr. Wegman intones, we need more Katzmanns on the bench. Even under Dem Presidencies, the country is not getting enough of them.

Without further adieu, here is a taste:

“The complicated humanity of others — whether judges, litigants, citizens or lawmakers — was at the heart of Judge Katzmann’s understanding of the world. He saw it in the work of Congress, where laws that are supposed to serve as clear guideposts are often vague, ambiguous or self-contradictory, like the people who wrote them. Some jurists see all that messiness as irrelevant if not dangerous, and steer as far from it as possible. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the leading advocate of this approach, known as textualism, and refused to consider anything that was not in the black-and-white text of the law in front of him.

Judge Katzmann, the first ever federal judge with a Ph.D. in political science, worked from a more balanced perspective. Laws are “expressions by the people’s representatives of this nation’s aspirations, its challenges, and approaches to those challenges,” he wrote. “When judges interpret the words of statutes, they are not simply performing a task. They are maintaining an unspoken covenant with the citizenry on whose trust the authority and vitality of an independent judiciary depend.”

Go read the whole thing. It is a portrait of what you want a judge to be. Katzmann was superlative. But he is not alone, there are many judges out there trying to do the right thing, and not getting enough credit for it. I see them in court, and have for a very long time. Even know a few. But it is harder to see from the 30,000 feet airplane view of the internet. Robert Katzmann was special, but there are others too.

11 replies
  1. BobCon says:

    Reading the Brady opinion, I absolutely agree with Katzmann that Goodell’s position was dumb and stupid and unfair. I’m not a lawyer, though, so I can’t weigh in on the majority’s opinion, which appears to me to say that the NFLPA essentially signed away their right to block Goodell’s stupidity and unfairness. I could believe the NFLPA would sell their souls for a donut, like Homer Simpson once did, although I don’t know if it would be a legally enforceable contract.

    At any rate, I sure hope he is right as quoted in the second to last paragraph:

    “Then he admitted to some trepidation. ‘A concern that I do have is that there may be a perception out there that courts are just political actors and that what they do is just serve their political sponsors. And I don’t think that that is healthy,’ he said. ‘Because I also don’t think it’s correct.'”

    If the perception is right just in terms of a significant part of conservative judges who are a part of the judiciary, then we’re all in for a world of trouble.

  2. timbo says:

    He sounds like a good person to have around when you want a fair and thoughtful ruling…also just generally have around. Sad to know Judge Katzmann is not on the watch any longer…

  3. GKJames says:

    “When judges interpret the words of statutes, they are not simply performing a task.” This gets to the heart of it. It’s why “textualists’” obsession with literalness is wrong.

    • bmaz says:

      “Textualists”. “Originalists”. It is all bullshit to mask hidden political goals. The law is a living and breathing thing that does, or at least should, mirror the changes in time and the citizenry body it is intended to protect. “Originalism” and “Textualism” are lazy and lame excuses by those who do not wish to do so.

      • Rugger9 says:

        In support of your point, if the Framers had considered the US Constitution to be an immutable document, there would have been no mechanisms included therein to amend it.

        • BobCon says:

          There is no evidence the Founders were textualist and plenty of evidence they weren’t.

          It’s a purely 20th Century conceit forced backwards onto the 18th Century on arbitrary and ideological grounds.

      • Hug h says:

        And this quote from Katzman’s book in the lead of the Obituary says it all- “Nothing human can be perfect. Surrounded by difficulties, we did the best we could; leaving it with those who should come after us to take counsel from experience.”
        -Gouverneur Morris

        Textualism, Originalism… the small minded refuge of rigid high RW authoritarian followers.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      The law creates a framework. The courts try to suit individual circumstances to that framework. That mandates interpretation, because no framework inevitably fits all cases. To deny that work of interpretation is foolishly Procrustean, and is fundamentally to deny the work which the courts, and the judges, are there to do. (I read a fair bit of Ronald Dworkin when younger, and some of it stuck.)

  4. Hart Liss says:

    The frustrating thing about the Times is that, like many, it does superlative work at times. The problem is that they should be doing superlative work far, far more often given their resources.
    Too, more than many in the establishment press, they essentially set the narrative for the rest of the media. And, as a rule, they’ve done so irresponsibly.
    It all makes one want to tear one’s hair out.

  5. Vinnie Gambone says:

    Thanks Bmaz. Look at what the courts in Belarus are doing, the courts in Russia and Nevalny.. And so are we headed to a time courts will ok the states firing of election boards, and the overturning of elections ? Won’t the integrity of out elections ultimately be determined by judges ? Dont they ultimately decide on Integrity of monitoring, and counting, and custody ?We so need people like Katzman. A reason to believe.

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