“Father of Miranda” Yale Kamisar Retires

"Father of Miranda"Yale Kamisar

After 54 years in academia, the “Father of Miranda,” Professor Yale Kamisar, is retiring from the lecture hall. Professor Kamisar joined the faculty at USD in 2000 before becoming a full-time, tenured professor in 2002. He got his start at the University of Minnesota in 1957 and joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1965.

“I’ll miss a lot of things. I’ll miss the faculty. I’ll miss the students and their enthusiasm,” Kamisar, 81, said from his office in Warren Hall. “The students have a certain resourcefulness and personality.”

Professor Kamisar specializes in criminal law as well as constitutional law. He has co-authored two casebooks: Modern Criminal Procedure: Cases, Comments, Questions (in its 12th edition) and Constitutional Rights and Liberties: Cases, Comments, Questions (in its 9th edition). He has also been quoted numerous times by the U.S. Supreme Court in landmark cases such as Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436) in 1966 and Illinois v. Perkins (496 U.S. 292) in 1990. Kamisar credits his persistence and work ethic in establishing a successful career.

“I can spend a whole night on one paragraph. Five hours on one [darn] paragraph,” he said. Of his article that was quoted in the Perkins case, he vividly remembered his frustration. “I think I almost spent a whole weekend on one paragraph of an article, and it turned out to be quoted by the Supreme Court.”

Professor Kamisar now plans to focus on finishing the 13th edition of Modern Criminal Procedure. The book’s first edition came out in 1965 and sold approximately 300 copies. Kamisar credits the Miranda decision for the book’s later success. “Miranda came down in 1966, and we put out a new edition and sold about 10,000 copies.”

Kamisar also will guest-lecture at the University of Washington, but USD will always be on his mind. “I’ve enjoyed my eleven years here,” he said. “It’s a nice place and everybody was nice to me.”

Graduating from Columbia Law School in 1954, Kamisar began his legal career with Covington & Burling, LLP in Washington, D.C. and quickly realized he wanted to spend more time on legal topics he was interested in. “I never felt like I had enough time to get to the bottom of what I was working on,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that likes to be exhaustive.”

Speaking from his office in the law school, it is clear he can hone in on any subject for long periods of time. His desk is covered with so many legal pads and case books that there is no practical way he can move everything so as to update his calendar so that it accurately reads the correct month. (It currently reads February.)

After spending more years teaching than most USD law students have spent living, Professor Kamisar knows what can make a successful professor. “You have to model yourself after somebody, whether you realize it or not,” he said. “How else can you teach?” And after half a century of teaching, Kamisar believes he knows what works best for him: “You have to be an actor. That’s part of it. You have to be in control even if you pretend not to be. Some people might say ‘it’s not my job to be entertaining’ and so forth, but I would say it is your job, to some extent.”

“I’m not going to be somebody else. I’m going to be myself. This is the way I am. I’m just going to be a guy from New York.”

Professor Kamisar once pulled a student aside before class and told her to pretend to pass out once class began. (He was planning on making a point that while an individual in general will often assist others if he or she is the only one around, that same person often will assume somebody else will help if he or she is in a larger group.) Sure enough, once class began, she pretended to collapse and no one did a thing. Finally, after five minutes of lecture, he asked a student sitting next to the “victim” why he didn’t help. Flustered, the man said, “I thought she was taking a nap.”

Kamisar graduated from New York University and served in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Consequently, he fought in the Korean War from 1951-1953 as a commander of an assault platoon on the well-known T-Bone Hill, an area that changed hands numerous times between the Chinese Communist Forces and the United Nations forces. Despite the war, Kamisar managed to put an optimistic spin on the entire experience. “I came back [from Korea] mentally rested,” he said. “I enjoyed going to class because I [spent] two years in the army.”

Since becoming a professor, Kamisar has noticed a troubling decline in student volunteerism. If he had his preference, students would play a much larger role in lectures. “It’s the student culture that you don’t volunteer, so you get almost no volunteers,” he opined. “Now when I was in law school, I volunteered all the time. All three years.” He then paused. “That’s why people hated me.”

After 54 years of teaching, Professor Kamisar still doesn’t pretend to be something he is not. While he credits his relentless work ethic for getting him where he is, he seemed to enjoy the journey more than the destination: “If I planned it, it couldn’t have been better. But I didn’t plan it,” he said of his career. “It was just one of those things.”

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