Throughout his 38 years working at the University of Michigan Law School, Yale Kamisar, the Clarence Darrow Distinguished University Professor of Law Emeritus, could not be found at any bar in Ann Arbor, except for Dominick’s — and even then, it was only for the pizza. Gordon Kamisar, the second of Yale Kamisar’s three sons, said his father never drank, but loved taking his colleagues out to debate legal decisions over lunch.
“I know he went to Dominick’s a lot, right next door to law school,” Gordon Kamisar said. “You’ll see people mentioning sometimes that they … used to have lunch with him there and (remembered) how gracious he was.”
Yale Kamisar was legendary in and out of the classroom. At the University, he taught courses in Constitutional Law, Criminal Justice and Criminal Law. Referred to as the “Father of Miranda,” Kamisar is best known as a scholar for his work in reforming constitutional criminal procedure and influencing the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona, which officially established the Miranda Rights. The Miranda Rights refers to a person’s “right to remain silent” and the right to a lawyer that is required to be recited by police officers when they arrest an individual. Kamisar has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 30 times, with more distinct works cited than any other author.
Kamisar retired from the University in 2003 and received a tribute from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who labeled him as “one of (Michigan) Law School’s most prized professors.” Ginsburg also wrote that she corresponded frequently with Kamisar about the latest Supreme Court decisions and had the most recent editions of his Modern Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law casebooks in her office.
“In the courts as well as the academy, Yale’s work has attracted an impressive audience. More than 30 Supreme Court opinions have cited Yale’s scholarship, and citations to his writings by other federal courts, as well as state courts, number far into the hundreds,” Ginsburg wrote.
On Jan. 30, 2022, Kamisar passed away in his Ann Arbor home at the age of 92.
Kamisar grew up in East Bronx, N.Y. with his European immigrant parents. He received an academic scholarship to New York University, where he graduated in 1950. Kamisar attended Columbia Law School before enlisting in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
After earning a Purple Heart, among various other military awards for his bravery as a commander, Kamisar returned to Columbia and graduated in 1954. He briefly worked as an antitrust lawyer for the Covington and Burling law firm in Washington, D.C., but quickly began his teaching career at the University of Minnesota Law School as an associate professor in 1957. Kamisar went on to work as a visiting professor at Harvard University Law School in 1964, and he was hired by the University of Michigan Law School in 1965.
Yale Kamisar the professor
As a professor, Kamisar was renowned and well-liked among his students. Jeffrey Lehman, the vice chancellor of New York University Shanghai and former Dean of Michigan Law, was one of Kamisar’s students in his last year as a law student. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Lehman reflected on the experience of sitting in a lecture hall with Kamisar, which Lehman said was unlike any other class he had taken before or since. Lehman said Kamisar encouraged students to challenge their beliefs — as well as Kamisar’s — and to always question the validity of court decisions.
“Yale wanted us as students to acquire those skills of going deeper and deeper, but at the same time to understand that it’s okay to believe that one set of arguments is stronger than the other,” Lehman said. “He believed that law should be accessible. That it wasn’t just scholars and judges who should understand what made legal problems hard and what made them important.”
Eve Primus currently serves as the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University, but she first met Kamisar as his student in her first year of law school. Like Lehman, she remembered how Kamisar appealed to the Socratic method of teaching, answering student questions with more questions. She emphasized his evident passion in the classroom, laughing at the time he accidentally broke a student’s glasses with a book when he was explaining a particular case.
“It was not uncommon that he would get red in the face and his hands would gesticulate wildly,” Primus said. “He had no sense of personal space. The New Yorker in him was strong.”
Primus went on to work as Kamisar’s research assistant during her time at Michigan Law and later became a co-author of one of his casebooks. When Primus was hired as a professor in 2007, she worked with Kamisar to take over several of the classes he had taught and was named the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor a couple of years later.
In the wake of his passing, Primus said having Kamisar’s name as a part of her title has taken on a new meaning for her. Primus said her position symbolizes her role in carrying on Kamisar’s legacy.
“It means something more to me now when I type it or write it or see it,” Primus said. “It’s a constant reminder of the lessons that he taught me to always continue to … create a more just and fair world.”
Primus said Kamisar’s impact on the legal field will only continue to grow as current law students engage with his work and his previous students, like herself, practice and teach law with the lessons Kamisar taught them in mind.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of students are different in how they think about the law because he was their professor,” Primus said.
Yale Kamisar the scholar
When Bill Miller started as a student at Yale Law School, he remembers his back hurting from lugging Kamisar’s casebook around in his backpack. Now the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at Michigan Law, Miller shared his memories of working as Kamisar’s colleague. Miller said that any time he engaged with Kamisar, he was struck by Kamisar’s charisma and passion.
“He had this wonderful way of talking nonstop about the cases that got him mad or the Supreme Court opinion that got him mad, and he was (always) just ironical or comical enough so that you were entertained by the show, instead of being put off by never being able to get a word in edgewise,” Miller said. “He was just wonderful. He was larger than life.”
As a scholar, Kamisar influenced various U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In addition to his work on Miranda, Kamisar’s article “Equal Justice in the Gatehouses and Mansions of American Criminal Procedure,” was cited in Gideon v. Wainwright, which ensures the right to a lawyer for criminal defendants even when they cannot afford one.
Kamisar also worked to tackle questions pertaining to the legality — or lack thereof — of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the later part of his career.
Gordon Kamisar said while he was attending the University as an undergraduate student at the same time his father was working as a professor, he was always intimidated by his father’s work ethic. He hypothesized that his father spent “well over 100,000 hours” working in his home office alone, noting Yale Kamisar’s intense productivity throughout his career.
“His productivity was insane,” Gordon Kamisar said. “Not a year (went) by that he (didn’t) produce something … Every decade there was a new adventure with my dad. If he was still alive today, he would be working on something right now. I can guarantee you that.”
Jerold Israel, Alene and Allan F. Smith Professor Emeritus of Law, was Yale Kamisar’s close friend and colleague. After meeting at the Law School in Ann Arbor in the summer of 1964, Israel and Kamisar worked together for almost 60 years. Israel said some of his favorite memories from his time at Michigan Law were collaborating with Kamisar on their criminal procedure casebooks.
Israel said Kamisar loved debating. He would passionately debate Israel, his students and other faculty members to test out his ideas and identify any potential counter arguments to his legal theories. At the same time, Israel said Kamisar was “the public relations” department for Michigan Law. Kamisar was always available to take phone calls from journalists and would advise law professors, practicing attorneys and students from around the world.
“He was a mentor to professors all over the country,” Israel said. “He wanted to have a personal conversation with every individual (who called him), and so he continued with telephone calls right up to the end.”
But Kamisar had a special place in his heart for the University. Israel said Kamisar avidly worked to recruit new law professors during his tenure, including Christina Whitman in 1976, the first female faculty member at Michigan Law.
“He was very active in recruiting people to come to the law school,” Israel said. “Once an offer was made, he was the guy who would get on the telephone and try to persuade (prospective professors) to make the move (to the University).”
Yale Kamisar the father
Despite all of the time he dedicated to his work, Yale Kamisar also always made time for his family. David Kamisar, Yale Kamisar’s oldest son, is a retired tennis coach. David said playing tennis was a foundational part of his childhood as well as his relationship with his father. Yale Kamisar encouraged and supported David’s athletic career, teaching him life lessons along the way.
“I was kind of acting badly on the tennis court and he said, ‘No one’s going to remember if you win this tournament or not,’” David Kamisar said. “(Yale Kamisar) would say ‘If you’re going to be remembered, you want to be remembered for what kind of person you are.’”
Gordon Kamisar graduated from the University of Michigan in 1982 before going to the Duke University School of Law. He now serves as the President of Kamisar Legal Search, Inc, a Seattle-based search firm. Gordon Kamisar said his father took their education seriously, which in turn inspired Gordon Kamisar to pursue excellence throughout his career.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Gordon Kamisar said. “He would impose those standards on us, which could be a good thing, and maybe sometimes it was very stressful, but we did certainly do our best.”
Jonathan Kamisar, the youngest of Yale Kamisar’s sons, is a practicing attorney for FUJIFILM Holdings America Corporation. Jonathan said he always admired his father’s devotion to the classroom and his willingness to admit when he was wrong. He said he will never forget the time Yale Kamisar canceled a class because he felt unprepared, despite having decades of experience teaching the subject.
“He just loved to teach; that was his element,” Jonathan Kamisar said. “He always wanted to stay on top of his game, he was always concerned that some student was gonna raise his hand or her hand and stump him on something … Decades into teaching, he got caught up in some law review article and he (felt that he) wasn’t prepared for class the next morning. So he actually canceled the class, even though most other professors would never do that.”
A person like Yale Kamisar — an exceptional professor, scholar and father — only comes around once in a great while, Eve Primus said.
“There are some people who are very good at criminal procedure,” Primus said. “There are some people who’ve left a mark on the world in the political or socio-political realm. There are some people who are excellent teachers. And there are people who are just kind, generous and giving individuals. It’s just so rare that you have someone who is all of those things.”
Daily News Editor Roni Kane and Daily Staff Reporter Carlin Pendell can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.