Judge Kenneth Ripple transitions to emeritus status after 46 years of teaching ND Law students

Author: Charles Williams

Kenneth Ripple Square

The Honorable Kenneth F. Ripple transitioned to emeritus status this summer after devoting 46 years to teaching constitutional law, conflict of laws, federal courts, and judicial process to generations of students as a member of the Notre Dame Law School faculty.

“It’s hard to imagine Notre Dame Law School without the presence of Judge Ripple,” Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law G. Marcus Cole said. “He has been a steadfast fixture for our students and faculty, as well as the people who rely on his judgment in the Seventh Circuit.”

Ripple joined the Law School’s faculty in 1977 and continued teaching even after he was appointed in 1985 to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. By the time he was appointed to the Seventh Circuit, the Law School’s graduating classes had already voted him Distinguished Professor of the Year five times, and his former students remain eager to explain why.

Ave Maria School of Law Professor Mollie A. Murphy ’80 J.D. was among Ripple’s very first students.

“I was fortunate to take three courses with him,” she said, “including one of my favorites — Constitutional Litigation — and to serve as his research assistant in my third year.” Ripple, she said, was a superb teacher right out of the gate, “knowledgeable, organized, and taking care to show you not only the specific concepts of the subject matter area, but the overall structure in which they fit.”

As significant as the substantive law that she learned from Ripple were “the habits of an excellent lawyer — a strong work ethic, the need for thorough analysis and attention to detail, and the importance of precise articulation of legal concepts.” And most importantly of all, she said, was that “he provided a role model — a model of integrity, a man who valued faith and family, as well as the institutions of the law. After law school, he continued to be a mentor and friend.”

Gregory G. Murphy ’79 J.D. practices law in Billings, Mont. He recalls that when he took Ripple’s Constitutional Law course as a second-year law student, the new professor, in just his third year on the faculty, had already established himself as a student favorite. “He was well-recognized by the students as a constitutional scholar of the first rank and was viewed as a kind and gentle man, albeit no pushover. Everyone recognized that he was extremely diligent and worked long hours. He bore an air of absolute rectitude. He obviously liked his students, and they liked him.”

Murphy vividly remembers the moment Ripple admonished his graduating class to build cathedrals with their lives. ”By this,” Murphy said, “he was telling us to build something glorious, beautiful, and dedicated to the Lord.” He also treasures the memory of the keynote address Ripple delivered to the Class of 1979 at their 40th reunion. “We were tremendously impressed by how much he remembered about our class, but even more by how much effort he must have put forth in preparing his remarks, which were full of wisdom and kindness. We very much appreciated him.”

From left, Judge Michael S. Kanne, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit speak to students on February 3, 2020. Professor Roger Alford is at the podium.

Notre Dame Law School faculty members are no less appreciative of their colleague.

Professor Emeritus Fernand N. “Tex” Dutile ’65 J.D. participated in the interview process that brought Ripple to Notre Dame.

“Despite my strong confidence even back then that he would be a wonderful addition to our enterprise, I could not have imagined just how much he would mean to Notre Dame Law School,” Dutile said.

“For almost half a century he has been a superb colleague, a dedicated and brilliant scholar-teacher, and a valued friend. If during all that time there has been a better lawyer exemplar for our students, that name does not come to mind. He has wonderfully modeled the competence, preparation, civility, devotion, and caring that we so wish our students to bring to their professional lives,” Dutile said.

“Counting him as colleague and friend has been a significant part of my career at Notre Dame.”

Intellectual and ideological diversity has long been an important component of the Notre Dame Law School experience, and one that sets it apart from many law schools. In this regard, Professor Emeritus John H. Robinson greatly valued Ripple’s steadfast and warm collegiality.

“Way back in the last millennium,” Robinson said, “Ken was widely known to be a conservative just as I was widely known to be a liberal. In all the years during which, as colleagues, we addressed all sorts of issues that arose in the Law School, never once did our substantial political differences get in the way of our collaborating on the issue at hand.”

Ripple Mccafferty Award 2014 Speaking
In 2014, the Notre Dame Law Association presented Hon. Kenneth F. Ripple with the McCafferty Award for Service. He is pictured here speaking at the ceremony.

Ripple graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from Fordham University in 1965, received his J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1968, and earned an LL.M. summa cum laude in administrative law and economic regulation from the National Law Center of the George Washington University in 1972. Before joining the Notre Dame faculty, he served as the legal officer of the U.S. Supreme Court (1972-73) and as special assistant to the chief justice of the United States (1973-77). He also practiced law in the Office of the General Counsel of IBM, and as a branch head for the Judge Advocate General of the Navy.

Then, eight years after joining the Notre Dame faculty, he was nominated by President Reagan to serve as a judge on the U.S Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Loath to cut his close ties to the Law School, Judge Ripple determined to remain a member of the faculty, and to continue teaching as a part-time professor. He also continued to earn University honors. In addition to being voted Distinguished Professor of the Year on five occasions by the Law School’s graduating classes, he was presented with the Special Presidential Award in 1985, and the Rev. Michael D. McCafferty Award for Service to Notre Dame Law School in 2014.

“My Notre Dame years were grace-filled ones,” said Ripple. “I am very thankful for all the wonderful friendships that I have with colleagues and former students, and look forward to continuing those friendships in the time ahead.”