In June, 2018, Kathryn Kolbert retired from her position as the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center dedicated to the advancement of women’s leadership, which she founded in 2009. She was also a Professor of Leadership Studies and Professor of Professional Practice in the Political Science Department at Barnard and the co-founder of the Athena Film Festival. She is continuing to consult with the Athena Film Festival and on program development and political activism with educational, health care and governmental leaders.
A public-interest attorney, journalist, and executive in the non-profit world, Kolbert has been recognized by The National Law Journal as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” and by The American Lawyer as one of 45 public- interest lawyers “whose vision and commitment are changing lives.” In 1992, Kolbert argued the landmark case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the U.S. Supreme Court and has been credited with saving Roe v. Wade with what CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin has called “one of the most audacious litigation strategies in Supreme Court history.” She has been involved in every reproductive rights case considered by the Supreme Court from 1985 to 1998.
Prior to coming to Barnard, Kolbert was the President and CEO of People for the American Way and its Foundation, two of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations. From 1998-2008, she oversaw a program on law and American life at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center where she created and was the executive producer of NPR’s Justice Talking, an award-winning radio program distributed to 125+ stations across the globe and its companion website, JusticeLearning.org.
Kolbert has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a public interest attorney specializing in women’s rights. From 1992 to 1997, she directed domestic litigation and public policy programs for the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she was a co-founder and vice president. She has also served as the State Coordinating Counsel of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project in New York and as a Staff Attorney with both the Women’s Law Project and Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.
Professor Kolbert graduated cum laude from Temple University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University’s School of Arts and Sciences. She has lectured at colleges and universities across the nation and is a frequent commentator on constitutional and women’s rights issues in the national media.