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Professor receives German award

Anna Boarini | Friday, November 19, 2010

Germany’s highest honor, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, was awarded to political science professor Donald Kommers on Nov. 8.

The award is given for outstanding service to the country and is reserved for both Germans and foreigners.

“I [had] no idea who or what was behind this award,” Kommers said. “It took me totally by surprise.”

The award was presented to Kommers in a ceremony at the German Consulate office in Chicago. Onno Hückmann, the German Consulate General, presented the award. Hückmann praised Kommers’ academic success and his contribution to building a bridge between The United States and Germany in a way that few others have.

Kommers said he has been interested in Germany since he was a boy.

He grew up in a German area of Wisconsin, and was exposed to the culture at a young age. He studied the language for three years in high school and then again in college.

After receiving his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin, Kommers came to Notre Dame in 1967. After a trip to Germany in 1968 to study their high court, he decided to change the course of his academic life.

“I’ve always been interested in the judicial system, so I started comparing the U.S. system to courts around the world,” Kommers said. ” I decided to combine my interest in the American constitutional law with German constitutional law.”

In his 43 years of academic life spent at the University, Kommers has served as a professor of political science and law. In 1974, University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh named him the director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

It was under Kommers’ service that the center changed their goal from working toward civil and human rights domestically to a more international mission.

Through out his career, Kommers has written countless articles on the subject of comparative constitutional government.

One of his works, “The Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic if Germany,” is going into its third printing. This book helped to develop the field of comparative constitutional law, Kommers said.

“It brought the attention of the German courts to the English speaking world,” Kommers said.

This is not the first time Kommers has been awarded by the German government for his academic work.

In 2008, he was awarded the Berlin Prize, which allowed him to continue his study of the German constitutional courts at the American Academy in Berlin and in 1998, he received an honorary doctorate of law from Heidelberg University.