Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Memoriam: Herma Hill Kay (1934-2017)

The lovely memorial notice sent out by Berkeley's Interim Dean Melissa Murray is below the fold:


It is with a very heavy heart that I write to share the sad news that our dear friend and colleague, Herma Hill Kay, the Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Professor of Law and former Dean of Boalt Hall, passed away Saturday, June 10, 2017, in her sleep.  

Herma was on the Boalt faculty for 57 years, from 1960 to 2017.  She served as Dean of Boalt Hall from 1992 to 2000—the first woman to lead a top ten U.S. law school.  Over the course of her long career, Herma made enormous contributions to the law, to women in the law, to the Law School, and to the Berkeley campus.  

Herma received her B.A., from Southern Methodist University in 1956 and her J.D. from the University of Chicago School of Law in 1959.  Prior to joining the academy, she served as a law clerk to Justice Roger Traynor of the California Supreme Court.

Raised in rural South Carolina, Herma decided she wanted to be a lawyer when she was in the sixth grade.  Her mother told her: “Don’t be silly, you can’t make a living as a lawyer—you’ll get married.”  Years later, Karl Llewellyn, then a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told her that she didn’t belong in law school.  Nevertheless, she persisted.  Undaunted by these experiences, Herma was a stellar student, served as an editor on the law review, and worked as a research assistant for Brainerd Currie, with whom she co-authored two leading articles.  Indeed, Justice Roger Traynor hired her as a clerk on Currie’s recommendation. 

Herma’s career at Berkeley Law is the stuff of legends.  She was the second woman hired to the Boalt faculty.  She was hired when the first woman, Barbara Armstrong, announced plans to retire.  At Boalt, she was a much-admired professor of Family Law, Conflicts of Law, Sex-Based Discrimination, and California Marital Property Law.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote of Herma: 

“Herma has spearheaded countless endeavors to shape the legal academy and the legal profession to serve all the people the law exists (or should exist) to serve, and to make law genuinely protective of women’s capacity to chart their own life’s course.”

Herma’s interest in expanding women’s opportunities would be felt throughout the Law School and the legal profession.  During her tenure at Boalt, the number of women students increased from a small handful to over fifty percent of the class.  As Professor Eleanor Swift recounts:

“[Herma’s] mentoring of women law students and young faculty opened the door to legal careers that simply did not exist before she and other women of her generation began to imagine them.  The women law professors whom she mentored throughout her career constitute her enduring legacy to the law and to legal education.”

Herma’s influence as a scholar can be felt in the fields of Family Law, Conflicts of Law, and Anti-Discrimination Law.  As part of Governor Edmund Brown’s 1966 Commission on the Family, she was pivotal in shepherding California’s shift to “no-fault” divorce, a move that was later adopted in almost every American jurisdiction.  As I observed in a California Law Review symposium dedicated to Herma:  “She literally transformed the legal landscape of American family life.  In the late 1960s and 1970s, as a revolution in substantive sex equality was sweeping California, Herma was at its center.”

Herma was a co-author of the leading casebooks on Sex Discrimination and Law and Conflict of Laws.  Her casebook on Sex Discrimination in the Law, which she co-authored with Kenneth Davidson and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was the first published course material in the field.  Herma also served as a Co-Reporter of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act in 1968.  She published numerous articles and book chapters on subjects including sexual discrimination and the law, conflict of law, family law, divorce, adoption, reproductive rights, and representing under-represented women.  At the time of her death, she was nearing completion of a history of women in law teaching between 1900 and 2000.  The first part of this work recounts the stories of the fourteen women appointed to a law faculty in the U.S. before 1960, when she joined the Boalt faculty.

As the Dean of Boalt Hall, Herma faced important challenges and opportunities.  Recognizing the need and desire for hands-on legal training, she launched the Center for Clinical Education, making Boalt one of the first top law schools to enter the field of clinical education.  She led the Law School in the aftermath of Proposition 209, maintaining the Law School’s commitment to diversity and providing opportunity for the disadvantaged.

Although she was prodigiously accomplished, Herma was also a generous institutional citizen—at the Law School, on campus, and in the profession.  In 1998, she was named one of the 50 most influential female lawyers in the country and one of the eight most influential lawyers in Northern California by the National Law Journal.  She was a Member of the Council of the American Law Institute, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Member of the American Philosophical Society, President of the Association of American Law Schools, and Chair of Berkeley’s Academic Senate, among other positions.

Not surprisingly, Herma’s pioneering work as a scholar, teacher, and administrator has been widely recognized.  In 1992, she was awarded the Margaret Brent Award to Women Lawyers of Distinction from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.  In 2015, she received the AALS’s Triennial Award for Lifetime Service to Legal Education and the Law.  That same year, the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education awarded Herma its Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award.  Poignantly, Justice Ginsburg was there to present the award to her longtime friend and co-author.

In her spare time, Herma was a pilot, an avid swimmer, and an accomplished gardener.  Her husband, Dr. Carroll Brodsky, passed away in 2014.  She is survived by his three sons and by four grandchildren.

Although I have tried to capture the scope and magnitude of Herma’s legacy and her incalculable impact on this community, I fear that words alone cannot do justice to such an extraordinary friend and colleague.  She will be sorely missed. 


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