Acclaimed UM law professor Yale Kamisar dies at 92

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Yale Kamisar, Ann Arbor

In nearly 40 years as a University of Michigan law professor and scholar with impressive expertise, Yale Kamisar inspired his pupils and colleagues while carving a place in legal history.

Many speak in awe of his expansive memory, insightful writing and the influential role he played in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that resulted in what are commonly called the “Miranda rights.”

“He was a towering figure in the profession; for a half-century he was one of the nation’s foremost commentators on criminal procedure,” said Mark West, dean at the UM Law School. “He is known especially for his path-breaking work on the law of interrogation, which led to his title as the intellectual and unofficial ‘Father of Miranda.’ ”

Mr. Kamisar, the Clarence Darrow Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Law at UM, died Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. He was 92.

The longtime instructor became a nationally recognized authority on constitutional law and criminal procedure.

Colleague Ted St. Antoine, a professor emeritus of law at UM, called him “the country's foremost constitutional criminal law proceduralist. He was cited in more than 30 U.S. Supreme Court opinions and in hundreds of federal and state court decisions.”

Mr. Kamisar was often lauded for his influence on the Supreme Court’s Miranda v. Arizona ruling in 1966, which found that police must warn suspects of their right to remain silent and have an attorney before questioning.

The court cited one of the professor’s essays, “Equal Justice in the Gatehouses and Mansions of American Criminal Procedure,” in the decision.

“He really was a giant in the field — the Father of Miranda isn't a lightly given nickname but rather a well-deserved characterization,” said Evan Caminker, dean emeritus and Branch Rickey Collegiate Professor of Law at UM. “Both the intellectual force of his legal analysis and the passionate force of his voice significantly enabled, informed, and guided the Warren Court's effort to rein in all-too rampant police abuse that threatened constitutional values far outside the courthouse doors.”

Mr. Kamisar also wrote extensively, having authored books including “Police Interrogation and Confessions: Essays in Law and Policy” as well as articles on topics such as search and seizures, colleagues said.

He co-authored “Criminal Justice in Our Time” as well as multiple editions of the widely used casebooks “Modern Criminal Procedure: Cases, Comments & Questions” and “Constitutional Law: Cases, Comments and Questions.”

One of those works “has been used by more than 400,000 students in over 100 law schools,” West said.

Mr. Kamisar was legendary at UM, where he has a professor chair named after him.

Eve Primus, who now fills that role after years as a mentee, had Mr. Kamisar for her first-year criminal law procedure class in the 1990s and, like other classmates, never forgot the experience.

Yale Kamisar at his University of Michigan office.

“He had a presence that was larger than life,” she said. “He would come into a classroom and he had so much passion and so much desire to engage his students and to push them to think about the law as a tool for justice.” 

The professor also had a knack for arranging his course in a way to help students understand how interrogations would appear from a suspect’s perspective as well as unpacking the complexities of Supreme Court decisions, she said. “He was an incredible writer, so he would parse their language and try to get the students to understand where the court got it wrong.”

Born Aug. 29, 1929, in New York to Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Mr. Kamisar  attended New York University on a scholarship, then Columbia Law School, where he joined the Columbia Law Review and graduated second in his class, relatives said.

He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, becoming a first lieutenant, commanding a platoon and facing combat that left him wounded, according to his biography.

Mr. Kamisar earned multiple military honors, including the Purple Heart, according to family.

After working as an associate at the Covington and Burling firm in Washington, D.C., he taught for the University of Minnesota and Harvard law schools and, later, the University of San Diego School of Law, his biography said.

He joined the faculty at UM in 1965, the university reported.

When he decided to retire from full-time teaching there in 2004, the Michigan Law Review published tributes by supporters and luminaries such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote that he “produced pathmarking scholarship” and was "a fine thinker at work, one ready to reconsider even long-held beliefs in hopes of finding a better answer."

Mr. Kamisar, who wrote opinion pieces in The Detroit News, regularly helped others seeking his advice, whether former students or journalists.

“Many people knew of him as this brilliant scholar, this amazingly passionate debater and incredible classroom teacher. He was also one of the most kind, generous and giving people that I have ever known,” said Primus, who served as a research assistant.

Though his name was well-known in legal circles and beyond, Mr. Kamisar “was so humble,” she added.  “He has taught generations of people to think about the criminal justice system and fight for fairness in that system. His influence on American law, on the University of Michigan as an institution and on countless individuals is immeasurable.”

Survivors include his wife, Joan; sons David, Gordon and Jonathan; four grandchildren; and a sister, Myrna Berkin. He was predeceased by his twin sister, Bernice Adler.

Services were Tuesday with interment at Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor.