In Memoriam: Richard Alan Enslen, 1931-2015


by Cynthia Price, Legal News, and from local sources

Richard Alan Enslen (May 28, 1931-February 17, 2015), of Kalamazoo, passed away at home after a long illness.

Enslen was an Article III judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.

Enslen was born in Kalamazoo. He went to Kalamazoo Central High School, where he was active in football, baseball, and student government. He then went to Kalamazoo College, and spent nearly all of his working life in Kalamazoo. It is therefore not surprising that his “life story” obituary states that “Richard reveled in all things Kalamazoo and felt privileged to call it home.”

He did leave the area to serve in the Air Force from 1951-1954, which was during the Korean War, and, after taking classes at Western Michigan University, to obtain his LL.B. from Wayne State University Law School. He also was in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1965-1968 in Costa Rica, where he served as director.

He worked a brief stint as an assistant trust officer for First National Bank and Trust Company in Kalamazoo before going into private practice from 1958 to 1965. He also practiced law from 1970 to 1979, as part of the Howard and Howard Law Firm, and partnering with attorney Bill Schma after time as a solo practitioner.

Between the two periods of private practice, Enslen was a municipal court judge in Kalamazoo and a district court judge. Reportedly, he resigned from that elected position “because he wanted to speak out against the Vietnam War and did not like sending war protestors to jail.”

Enslen ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, but lost to the Republican incumbent.

President Jimmy Carter, based on the recommendation of Sen. William Riegle,?Jr., nominated Enslen for appointment to the U.S. District Court, and he was confirmed by the Senate and started on the bench in December 1979.

He served as chief judge from 1995-2001, and took senior status in 2005. He stopped hearing cases in 2009.

Enslen, who ruled in several controversial cases throughout his career, was given a Distinguished Alumni Award and granted an honorary doctorate from Western Michigan University. He also received a masters degree in law from University of Virginia School of Law in 1985.

He is included in the book Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia, with the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Felix Frankfurter. The book states, “Enslen distinguished himself as a federal judge noted for using his judicial authority to protect constitutional rights. Moreover, he served as a national leader in the implementation of alternative dispute resolution (ADUR) techniques in the federal courts.”

Among his most important decisions were the Title IX case against the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which resulted in girls’ sports schedules being considered on an equal footing with boys’; forcing oversight of the Michigan Department of Corrections to ensure appropriate treatment of prisoners; and the right of Native Americans to fish using gill nets in the Great Lakes.

The effort to attain racial equality was of overriding importance to Enslen. While in private practice, he represented the local NAACP branch, resulting in the court ordering busing to end segregation in Kalamazoo Public Schools.

He went to Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer in 1964, registering African-Americans to vote and representing them when their rights to vote were denied.

He wrote The Constitutional Law Dictionary, Vol. 2: Governmental Powers, Supplement 1 with Ralph Chandler and Peter Rentsch and Alternative Dispute Resolution, with Pamela Chapman Enslen, his wife of 30 years who survives him.

Pamela Enslen is herself a well-respected attorney, a litigator and meditator specializing in employment cases, who is now a partner at Warner Norcross and Judd. She has been very active in the American Bar Association.

Other surviving members of his family include four sons, David, Thomas (Lisa), Joseph (Kathy) and Germany; three daughters: Susan, Sandy and Janet; and ten grandchildren.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan Chief Judge Paul Maloney issued the following statement upon Judge Enslen’s passing: “I had the distinct honor to serve with Judge Enslen in the Kalamazoo Federal Courthouse from 2007 until his retirement. As his successor in office, the judge welcomed me to the court and provided his sound advice as I acclimated to the District Court. I will be forever grateful for his wise counsel. Judge Enslen served with true distinction, always with a steadfast resolve to serve justice with respect to all persons who came before the court. He will be greatly missed.”

The court plans to honor Enslen with a court memorial ceremony, with the time and place to be announced soon.

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 28, at St. Thomas More Parish, 421 Monroe St., Kalamazoo.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Legal Aid of Western Michigan, Trauma Recovery Associates, the Turn 2 Foundation, or the Douglas Community Center.