John Richard Schmidhauser

Date of Death

February 21, 2018

John Richard Schmidhauser, a giant and pioneer in the field of judicial politics, former chair of the Political Science Department at USC, and former US Congressman, passed away peacefully in his sleep on February 21, 2018, at age 96 in Santa Barbara, California.

Schmidhauser was born in the Bronx, NY. He lost his father when he was a teenager and spent the Great Depression living lean with his mother in Maryland, an experience that shaped his work ethic and engendered in him empathy for society’s marginalized and a lifelong support for issues related to social justice.

Following his high school graduation, thanks to community sponsored music training, Schmidhauser enlisted in the US Navy at the outbreak of WWII. He served on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard in the Pacific theater as a communications officer and French hornist in the ship’s band and, following VJ-Day, as a member of the occupying force in Japan.

He enrolled in college under the GI Bill and earned a BA from the University of Delaware and a MA and PhD from the University of Virginia, in Political Science, with honors. While a student, Schmidhauser bartended at casinos in Ocean City, Maryland and played French horn and trumpet in various bands.

At the University of Virginia, Schmidhauser met a student in the Botany PhD program, Thelma Ficker, and they soon married and started a family.

From 1954–65 and 1967-73, Schmidhauser served as a professor at the University of Iowa, where he produced groundbreaking scholarly work on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“He was a pioneer in the field of judicial behavior,” said Joel Grossman, one of Schmidhauser’s first Ph.D. students at the University of Iowa. Grossman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins, said one of Schmidhauser’s books, “The Supreme Court: Its Politics, Personalities and Procedures,” set new standards for both teaching and research about the Court.

While serving as Chair for the Johnson County Iowa Democratic Committee, Schmidhauser agreed to run for a seat in the US Congress. Given little chance in the heavily Republican district, he scored an upset victory in the 1964 election.

Representing the 1st District of Iowa, Schmidhauser was particularly proud of sponsoring bills to improve worker safety, and for passage of many bills that were part of the “Great Society” legacy. Schmidhauser served a two-year term in Congress that ended in January 1967. He returned to the University of Iowa.

In 1973, he began a 19-year career in the Political Science Department at USC, where he was chairman of the department for many years. In 1991 he won the USC Raubenheimer Outstanding Senior Faculty Award and he received the Golden Key award for comparative research.

Schmidhauser’s warm demeanor made it easy for his graduate students to follow him after class as he walked to his car. It was common to see students talking to him as he was getting ready to drive off, eager to glean any last pearls of wisdom from him.

Alison Dundes Renteln, professor of political science at USC said: “He was a charismatic and brilliant leader, and a great colleague and great mentor. He was just a gem.”

He moved his family to Carpinteria in the 1980s and enjoyed his hobbies of gardening, swimming, and playing the French horn in local orchestras. After retiring from USC in 1992, he taught political science for several years at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In his later years, he remained active in local causes, volunteered at the Friends of the Carpinteria Library bookstore, wrote editorials for the local newspaper, and fought to preserve Carpinteria’s coastal bluffs.

Schmidhauser is survived by Thelma, his wife of 66 years, his children, Steven (Tieyan Han), Paul (Cindy Hughes), Thomas, John (Marilyn Schneider), Martha, Sara, Susan, four grandchildren and one great grandchild. He will be greatly missed.

A celebration of his life will be held in Santa Barbara on April 28th at 2:00. In lieu of flowers consider a donation to the Friends of the Carpinteria Library bookstore. For additional information about the memorial, please contact


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