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Leading Constitutional Law Scholar and Longtime Santa Monica Resident Dies at 89

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By Jorge Casuso

April 16, 2019 -- Kenneth Karst, an influential constitutional law scholar at UCLA who lived in Santa Monica for nearly 50 years, died last Tuesday. He was 89.

Karst had a profound effect in shaping the UCLA School of Law after joining its faculty in 1965 and became a celebrated and prolific author who was cited 12 times by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kenneth Karst
Kenneth Karst (Courtesy UCLA)

"Ken's knowledge of constitutional law is, quite literally, encyclopedic," Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a 2000 issue of the UCLA Law Review published in Karst's honor.

"His writings on the law's promise of equality have inspired teachers, students and political actors worldwide."

At UCLA, Karst helped develop minority outreach programs for the law school and shaped broader debates on access and equality.

His books included "Belonging to America: Equal Citizenship and the Constitution" published in 1989, which received the James A. Rawley Prize from the American Organization of Historians.

Karst also wrote "Law's Promise, Law's Expression: Visions of Power in the Politics of Gender, Race and Religion" published in 1993 and co-edited the the six-volume "Encyclopedia of the American Constitution."

Karst and his wife, Smiley, moved to 20th Street and Marguerita Avenue in Santa Monica with their four children in 1965, said Chris Long, a friend of the family.

All four children attended Lincoln Junior High and Santa Monica High.

In 2013, Kenneth and Smiley relocated to a health care facility in Santa Cruz, where Smiley still resides, Long said.

Karst earned his bachelor's degree from UCLA in 1950 and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1953.

After a brief stint at Latham & Watkins and as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Air Force, Karst became a law professor at Ohio State University before joining UCLA Law School.

An active member of the UCLA Law faculty for 40 years, Karst was named the David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Distinguished Professor of Law.

He was popular with the students, winning the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award and the Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was selected teacher of the year twice by the graduating class of UCLA Law students.

In an essay in the UCLA Law Review, legendary Stanford constitutional law professor Gerald Gunther, called his former Harvard classmate "one of the warmest, most delightful persons I know."

He wrote that Karst was "one of the most original, courageous commentators on American constitutional law over the last few decades."

In 1996, Karst was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the highest honors in the nation recognizing cross-disciplinary leadership and vision.

A private service for will be held in Santa Cruz. Family members ask that donations in Karst's name be directed to either the ACLU or KUSC radio.

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