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Remembering John Kramer

March 15, 2006

Tulane University is mourning the death of John R. Kramer, dean of the law school from 1986 – 1996, a brilliant scholar, educator and crusader for civil rights. Kramer died at home on March 7, 2006, after a lengthy illness. He was 68 years old.

"John Kramer was many things, including a great legal scholar and teacher, a highly successful dean, a devoted husband and father, and a champion of civil rights and constitutional protection for all Americans," said Lawrence Ponoroff, dean of Tulane Law School. "But no listing of individual attributes can possibly do justice to John's life and career. His passion, his great energy, and the sheer force of his commanding personality made him truly one of a kind, the likes of which come along in life very rarely. Tulane Law School and the entire legal community have lost an irreplaceable mentor and colleague. And I have personally lost a true friend and supporter. We will all miss John more than words can adequately express."

True to a lifelong commitment to protecting and empowering the poor, Kramer instituted a mandatory community service requirement for law graduates while dean of Tulane. It was the first of its kind in the country. He expanded the student body by one third, including a large influx of African-American students. He believed strongly in training students to further the public interest through development of new clinics and he oversaw construction of a new building for the law school.

Kramer came to Tulane from Georgetown University Law School where he had been Associate Dean and professor. His commitment to civil rights began early in his legal career. He became Counsel for Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) on the House Committee on Education and Labor in 1965, handling anti-poverty legislation and the first Higher Education Act. He was active in the anti-hunger movement in the late 1960s and 1970s as Executive Director of the National Council on Hunger and Malnutrition, drafting much of the existing food stamp and school feeding legislation. He created the Project for Older Prisoners, which offers legal advice and representation for elderly prisoners with long sentences.

Kramer was a magna cum laude graduate of both Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University, clerked for Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Judge Charles Merrill on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia, and was a litigator with the firm of Shea and Gardner in D.C.

He was president of the Field Foundation (1981-1991); initial chair of Access, Inc., the major private provider of loans to law students; founding chair of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (1981-2002), the most effective liberal think tank; an overseer of legal education through the Council of the Section of Legal Education (1994-2000); and, for more than 20 years, chief unpaid lobbyist for the nation's law schools in securing financing for legal and clinical education.

As an attorney, he has represented widely diverse clients from the Federal Employees Against the War in Vietnam, whistleblowers, the Mattachine Society, the National Student Association, Students for a Democratic Society, allegedly "obscene" film exhibitors, the National Pork Producers (enabling them to undertake the "Pork-The Other White Meat" campaign), and most recently, the United Gamefowl Breeders of America (to preserve cockfighting in Louisiana). He received awards for achievement from the ACLU, the NAAPC, and the Association of American Law Schools.

Friday, March 17, 5:00 – 7:30 pm
First floor of John Giffen Weinmann Hall
6329 Freret Street

Memorial Service
Trinity Episcopal Church
Saturday, March 18
12 noon, visitation in the Board Room
1:00 pm, memorial service
1315 Jackson Ave.
Reception following the service at the
Sydney and Wanda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park


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