Fall 2023

In Memoriam

The Hon. Rosemary S. Pooler, ’65

The Hon. Rosemary S. Pooler, ’65 
Photo Credit: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Rosemary S. Pooler, a senior judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, died at her home in Syracuse, New York, on August 10, 2023. She was 85. 

Following graduation from Michigan Law, Pooler rose from a career in private practice to become the first woman elected as a justice to the New York State Supreme Court for the Fifth Judicial District. Three years later, in 1994, she became the first woman to serve on the US District Court for the Northern District of New York following her appointment by President Bill Clinton. President Clinton elevated Pooler to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which she joined in 1998. The court hears appeals from the district courts in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. She served as senior judge from March 2022 until her death.

Speaking on behalf of the court, Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston said, “This is a heartrending loss for our court and our judges. Judge Pooler was a leader—a distinguished jurist who, by her example and wise counsel, helped open doors for so many others in the legal profession. She was devoted to public service, to fairness, and to equal justice for all. Her persuasive skills, her commitment to her craft, and, above all, her devotion to this court, were unparalleled. She was also our very dear friend. We will miss her.” 

Among Pooler’s notable decisions was one the US Supreme Court upheld in 2020. An opinion written by Pooler in 2018 stated that three Muslim men were entitled to seek damages from officers who they said had tried to force them to violate their religious beliefs by spying on other Muslims.

Pooler was dedicated to public service throughout her career, beginning as director of the Consumer Affairs Unit of the Syracuse City Corporation Counsel. In 1974, she was elected to the Syracuse Common Council. From her position on the city council, Pooler was appointed by Gov. Hugh Carey to be chair and executive director of New York State’s Consumer Protection Board. She served in that capacity for five years, beginning in 1976. She later was appointed to one of two consumer advocate positions on the seven-member New York State Public Service Commission, where she served from 1981 until 1986. 

According to her obituary, she was known as “fighting for those without power and privilege and helping to bring ‘equal justice for all’ closer to reality. She and a handful of other women broke barriers in ways that were previously considered impossible. She also formed lasting bonds with generations of law clerks she mentored beyond their working relationships.” 

Pooler was predeceased by her husband of 58 years, Bill Pooler, who died in 2017. She is survived by her children, Michael Pooler and Penelope Pooler Eisenbies; her son-in-law, Mark Eisenbies; two grandchildren; and her partner, Jerry Blackman.