Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Professor emeritus dies at 86

Donald P. Kommers, the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Chair in Government and International Studies and a concurrent professor emeritus of law, died at 86 on Dec. 21, the University announced in a news release Wednesday.

An expert in German and American constitutional law, Kommers served as editor of Notre Dame’s political theory journal, The Review of Politics, from 1981 to 1992. From 1976 to 1981, Kommers was the director of the Law School’s Center for Civil and International Human Rights, the release said.

“Don Kommers was a major force in shaping our department and the broader field as well,” political science professor and former political science department chair Michael Zuckert said. “Notre Dame now has one of the leading programs in constitutional studies in the United States. When Don started out, this was a declining field within political science, but he, together with longtime colleague Sot Barber, led a revival of the field here so that it is now stronger and more firmly established than ever.”

As an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America, Kommers studied philosophy and English literature. After serving two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kommers is the author of over 100 articles and books. According to the release, the third edition of his book on German constitutional law, “The Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic of Germany,” was published in 2012 by Duke University Press and received praise from German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Don was a real pioneer in forming a new subfield within constitutional studies — the field of comparative constitutionalism,” Zuckert said. “When Don entered the profession, it was heavily focused on the American constitutional experience. Although Don was a leading student of American constitutionalism, he made his real mark in his much-awarded work on German constitutionalism. This work, in turn, was one of the major formative influences on that new field of comparative constitutionalism.”

From 1995 to 1996, Kommers served as president of the National Conference Group on German Politics and in the 1970s was an advisor to President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust, the release said.

He also held fellowships at several institutions and organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American Philosophical Society, Max Planck Society and Rockefeller Foundation.

According to the release, Kommers earned the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award. He also received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin.

In 2010, Germany awarded Kommers with the Distinguished Service Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

German consul general Onno Huckmann said Kommers’ work “remarkably enriched both the American and German legal systems and [built] a bridge between our two countries as few others have,” the release said.

“[Kommers’] career at Notre Dame spanned my own time here as a student, as a member of the faculty and as dean,” said law professor and former Law School dean Patricia O’Hara. “First established as the Center for Civil Rights in 1973 under the leadership of Father Hesburgh, today’s Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights in the Keough School of Global Affairs broadened its direction internationally during Don’s tenure as director … A true interdisciplinary scholar, Don will be missed by his colleagues across many different departments at the University.”

A funeral Mass will be held Jan. 21 at 9:30 a.m. at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Memorial donations may be made to the University of Notre Dame Department of Development or online at

Condolences may be mailed to Nancy Kommers, P.O. Box 303, Notre Dame, IN, 46556 or left online at Kaniewski Funeral Homes.