|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Wisconsin's 2nd district
January 3, 1959 - January 3, 1991
|Donald Edgar Tewes|
|Scott L. Klug|
Robert William Kastenmeier
January 24, 1924
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
|Died||March 20, 2015 (aged 91)|
|Cause of death||Cardiovascular disease|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1943-1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Robert William Kastenmeier (January 24, 1924 – March 20, 2015) was an American Democratic politician who represented central Wisconsin in the United States House of Representatives for 32 years, from 1959 until 1991. He was a key sponsor of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
Kastenmeier was born in Beaver Dam, Dodge County, Wisconsin, where he attended public school. After graduating from Beaver Dam High School, he enlisted in the United States Army for duty in World War II. He was on his way to the Pacific Theater as a 2nd Lieutenant when the war ended in 1945. He was discharged from the Army on August 15, 1946, with the rank of 1st Lieutenant, but opted to remain in the Philippines until 1948, working as a branch office director handling war claims for the United States War Department.
After returning to the United States, he continued his education at Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota, and at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1952. After being admitted to the state bar, he began the practice of law in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Kastenmeier made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district in 1956, losing to Republican Donald Tewes by 11 points. In a rematch in 1958 he defeated Tewes by 6,200 votes, and became the first Democrat to hold the seat in 28 years. He won a third race with Tewes in 1960, and faced another close contest in 1962. However, he romped to a fourth term in 1964 and was re-elected with comfortable majorities twelve more times over the next 24 years, serving from the 86th United States Congress to the 101st.
Kastenmeier was a member of the House Judiciary Committee for almost his entire congressional career. In this capacity, he played a key role in the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon, asserting that each article of impeachment should be voted on separately in order to have a complete debate on each issue.
He was also Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Administration of Justice from 1969 until he left office. From this role, he worked as a key sponsor of the Copyright Act of 1976—the first major overhaul of American copyright law since 1909. The law remains the foundation of the modern American copyright law.
Kastenmeier was also active for many years in attempting to advance privacy laws, sponsoring or introducing 26 such bills between 1973 and 1991 to expand protections on communications privacy, financial privacy, rights of privacy from video surveillance, and confidentiality of medical records, among other topics. His efforts culminated in the successful passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which expanded government wiretap restrictions to mobile phones and electronic mail.
Also in 1986, he was one of the impeachment managers appointed by the House in 1986 to conduct the proceedings against Harry E. Claiborne, a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada who had been convicted of tax crimes but refused to resign his seat. Kastenmeier helped to frame the impeachment resolution against Claiborne which ultimately resulted in his conviction in the United States Senate and removal from office.
In 1990, Kastenmeier unexpectedly lost his re-election bid to Republican Scott Klug, a former television anchor who was nearly 30 years his junior. After leaving Congress, Kastenmeier served briefly on a judicial reform commission before retiring.
Kastenmeier lived in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and then Arlington, Virginia, where he died on March 20, 2015. A week before his death in 2015, in an interview with Madison's Capital Times, Kastenmeier warned of American overseas interventions, saying, "There are far too many trouble spots in the world. And we must always remember what history has taught us, that it's always very easy to get in, but terribly hard to get out." In eulogizing his former colleague, Congressman Dave Obey said of Kastenmeier, "I never saw him cast a vote for political reasons. I never saw him cast a vote that was contrary to his beliefs."
The Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the courthouses of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, was named in his honor.