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  • WisBar News
    March 31, 2015

    Robert Kastenmeier: The Conscience of Congress, Friend of the Courts, and Loyal Wisconsinite

    In this tribute, Wisconsin lawyer Michael Remington writes about Bob Kastenmeier as an uncommon politician and a modest man who leaves no greater legacy than his example. Former Congressman Kastenmeier, a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, died peacefully at his home in Virginia on March 20. He was 91.

    Michael J. Remington

    Bob Kastenmeier

    In 1989 Bob Kastenmeier represented the United States in negotiating a Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect to Integrated Circuits hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organization in Washington, D.C. Mike Remington is at Kastenmeier’s left.

    March 31, 2015 – Bob Kastenmeier was my boss, mentor, and friend.

    Writing a tribute to Bob Kastenmeier is a daunting task, particularly for one who worked closely with him for many years. I had the good fortune to toil under his tutelage for almost 14 years in a lawyer’s capacity. For 12 years I served as Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice that Bob chaired, and for two years as Executive Director of a national commission created by Congress to study judicial misconduct, also led by Bob.

    When Bob Talked, People Listened

    Bob was an uncommon politician, humble, shy, with a brilliant legal mind totally committed to the rule of law. He was a listener, not a talker. When he talked, people listened. Throughout his life, he was a loyal Wisconsinite: a serious Badger and Packers fan and rooter for all Wisconsin sports. He was politically liberal but an individual fiscal conservative; imbued with the Wisconsin idea and Progressive thinking; committed to “sifting and winnowing” the facts underlying societal problems before pursing legislative reforms; and ethical without reproach. Above all, he was modest. He instructed staff not to brag about his accomplishments and routinely avoided Presidential signing ceremonies for bills that he authored.

    Tireless Dedication to Effective Courts and Access to Justice

    After graduating from the University of Wisconsin -Madison Law School in 1952, Bob practiced law in Watertown. He was elected Justice of the Peace for Jefferson and Dodge counties in 1955 and served until 1959. Thereafter, he served 32 uninterrupted years in the U.S. House of Representatives, as the voice of Wisconsin’s 2nd District. Bob never forgot his early judicial experiences. He understood the role of the judge and empathized with litigants and those who lacked access to justice. He sponsored (and saw enacted into law) a broad array of judicial reforms for which he earned the respect of the federal (and state) courts. He enjoyed a mutual admiration society with both Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

    When Bob retired from Congress in 1991, the Judicial Conference of the United States honored him for his tireless dedication to the judicial branch of government. In an unprecedented U.S. Supreme Court ceremony, Chief Justice Rehnquist personally presented him with a resolution commending him for his contributions to the administration of justice. Bob was also a recipient of the Warren Burger Award for Excellence in Court Administration, and Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the inaugural Kastenmeier Lecture at the Memorial Union, hosted by the UW Law School.

    Legislative Accomplishments Span Human Rights to Intellectual Property to National Security

    Bob revered the Constitution and cast his votes based on what he thought was right and not for political reasons. It was not lost on him that the Legislative Branch is the First Branch of government. Kastenmeier took seriously the lesson of UW Law Professor Willard Hurst that the role of law is to rechannel societal changes that arise outside of the law.

    Bob Kastenmeier’s legislative interests and accomplishments are too long to enumerate. They span improvements to the administration of justice, civil liberties, and human rights; intellectual property (copyright, patents, trademarks, and semiconductors); privacy, national security wiretapping and freedom of the press; corrections, probation, and parole; legal services for the poor and public defenders; international peace, anti-war, and international treaty negotiations; and accountability of public officials, including the impeachments of President Richard Nixon and Judge Harry Claiborne.

    Kastenmeier’s Style: Deliberate and Evenhanded

    Instructive as are express compliments and palpable accomplishments, they still fail to reveal the essence of the man. What distinguishes Kastenmeier from others was his commitment to several core legal principles – balance, thoughtfulness, and fairness – which, in combination, contributed to the effectuation of a solid substantive work-product. Nothing characterizes the Kastenmeier style more than the phrase "deliberate and evenhanded."

    Michael J. RemingtonMichael J. Remington, U.W. 1973, is partner of the Washington, D.C., office of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

    Democracy is a matter of principles, not just procedures and rules. Service to the public is instrumental to this country's future. Bob Kastenmeier, as teacher and boundary setter, provided a formula for success. He can leave no greater legacy than his example. A plaque on the Robert W. Kastenmeier U.S. Courthouse in Madison aptly commemorates him as “a leading voice for civil rights and civil liberties, the value of ideas and the peaceful resolution of conflict among nations.” The plaque also reads: “Bob Kastenmeier’s humanity, ethics and fairness earned him a reputation as the conscience of Congress and friend of the courts. He will always inspire those who be noble in thought and honorable in deed.” To paraphrase the “Budweiser” song after Wisconsin football games, “when you say ‘Kastenmeier,’ you’ve said it all.”

    It is a fact about contemporary life that we tend to celebrate achievements of friends and colleagues when they pass away. These are often sad occasions. But when we are left with a legacy like that of Bob Kastenmeier, we have every reason to celebrate.

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