A profile on Professor Bill Lockhart

Sep 22, 2008 | Faculty

by Marty Stolz

Professor William J. Lockhart, an older man with grey curly hair and a silver beard wearing a brown tweed suitWilliam J. Lockhart, inevitably known among earlier students as “Wild Bill,” spent his pre-adolescent childhood exploring nature in his hometown of Los Altos, California, then a rural outpost on the southern end of the San Francisco Peninsula.

“I spent untold hours exploring the wild environs of Adobe Creek that now flows through back yards and under El Camino Real, among other insults,” he says. “But then it was idyllic woodland, and of course, whenever I was not in the woods, I was preparing lawsuits for their defense.”

Lockhart’s humor aside, he has indeed spent a lifetime advocating for civil rights and the protection of public lands, especially in the National Park System. He sees his life’s work as reflecting the values of the Constitution that should guide the demands of everyday life, though these values are too frequently challenged and “too often honored in the breach.”

Since 1964, Professor Lockhart has taught administrative and constitutional law, and the jurisdiction of federal courts, along with a wide array of environmental, seminar and field-based courses, at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, sharing his values with generations of Utah lawyers in his classes.

Lockhart also challenges students to confront both the legal conundrums and the values at stake in extensive pro bono civil rights and environmental litigation. A current case in the Utah Supreme Court is typical, challenging a transfer of state school trust land within Capitol Reef National Park to a local county. Moreover, his current coursework — an “International Environmental Practicum” involves teaming with students and with lawyers in India to assist them in litigation applying the requirements of that nation’s new legal framework for environmental impact assessments and related environmental justice issues.

Lockhart’s classroom and case work, he says, fit in with what he sees as a lawyer’s duty and the nation’s two century-long commitment to fulfilling the promise of the Constitution.

Professor Robert Keiter, a colleague at the College of Law, friend and neighbor in the Emigration Canyon, has known Lockhart for more than two decades.

“Bill’s career at the law school epitomizes the engaged law professor committed to teaching, research and public service,” Keiter says. “Bill has not only taught an array of classes, created unique student clinical opportunities, and produced cutting edge legal scholarship, but he has selflessly defended our national parks and civil liberties, all with quiet determination and commitment to the rule of law.”

Idle Youth and Idols

Lockhart’s appreciation for nature and the law grew as he did. At the age of 13, the Lockharts moved from California to Robbinsdale, Minnesota, a working-class suburb of Minneapolis. He lived across from Crystal Lake, another place to “misspend my time — fishing when the ice was out and hockey when the rink maintenance trucks could drive on the ice.”

Lockhart’s commitment to protection of the natural world had deeper roots, however. His family spent summers in Ely, at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a remote lake region in northern Minnesota with loons, bears, wolves and beavers. He credits his exposure to its quilt of lakes, rivers and wild lands with “imprinting the instincts for wilderness exploration and wildlife observation.”

Trips into the backcountry of that two million-plus acres of lakes, rivers and islands that make up Boundary Waters and Canada’s contiguous Quetico Provincial Park, even today, are not encouraged without a reliable map and compass. Lockhart jokes that he survived his youthful demonstrations of heedless masculinity: “carrying canoe and pack across long portages, running rapids, braving thunderstorms in the canoe.”

“This, with occasional predatory behavior, may have been compromising my karma,” he says. “But I was truly inhaling and loving the richness and diversity of that landscape and bioscape.”

Lockhart’s grandfather, the Reverend William J. Lockhart, had been a fire-and-brimstone preacher on the tent revival circuit of the 1920s and 1930s, and Lockhart’s father often accompanied the Reverend as a young adult. But through his childhood, Lockhart observed the gradual transformation of his grandfather, from rigid views about good and evil to greater fluidity, focusing on fundamental values. He sees that as the foundation of the moral imperatives of humanity and the Constitution that were imprinted in him, drawn from the similar commitment that his father, William B., a law professor and dean at the University of Minnesota, drew from that background and brought to the legal and teaching profession.

A muted and liberalized version of that revivalist religious tradition permeated Lockhart’s childhood home; and that tradition still infuses his inflections and reflections, even as he takes an almost scientific approach to legal thought: precise, rigorous and empirical. Lockhart himself long ago abandoned the formalities of religion, he says, but essential principles of his forebear’s values are a part of his daily life as a scholar and lawyer.

Lockhart offers observations as a series of contending motifs — primal adventure in nature and ingrained appreciation for it; or maintaining deep faith in the Constitutional while eschewing religion. But it was always the interaction or collisions of values that tested and refined his beliefs.

“I repeatedly see the values preached in the Sermon on the Mount reflected in principles more formally embedded in our Constitution,” he says. That comes down to a “basic respect for the individual, for individual belief and individual sensibilities; equality of opportunity and treatment without regard to irrelevant characteristics, including as far as possible, wealth; the opportunity for unimpeded free expression; the option to challenge perceived error in the realm of ideas and advocacy; and the affirmative obligation to exercise personal as well as institutional power in the larger public interest.”

“See the evangelist creeping out?”

A Tailored ‘Religion’

Lockhart, 75, absorbed the core values of his grandfather’s faith, which had sloughed off its condemnatory tone as the nation entered the modern civil rights era and Lockhart reached adulthood.

“By the time I was really paying attention,” he says, “my grandfather’s evangelism had been transformed, in both my father and grandfather, into a powerful insistence on the moral duties to love one another and be my brother’s keeper, with little regard for the litany of formalistic religious demands.”

In the period between the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 and Lockhart’s commissioning in the Navy in 1955, “I repeatedly heard my dad in public forums almost evangelically defending the [United States Supreme] Court,” which he recalls being under intense public attack, “and the essential moral imperative of that decision.”

Lockhart’s mother, Mary, held similar views, but her more subtle influences grew out of her generous capacity for empathy, he says, “for sensing and identifying with the internal struggles and concerns of others” — qualities he sees reflected in his sister, now a citizen of Denmark.

Life Away From Home

As an undergraduate, Lockhart experienced a melding of these values while absorbing the provocative and carefully reasoned lectures of Mulford Q. Sibley, the renowned pacifist and political scientist at the University of Minnesota. Sibley’s “masterful lectures, weaving ethical fundamentals with political concepts, struck the chords already implanted by my father and grandfather.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from the University of Minnesota, Lockhart — “a draft dodger in NROTC clothes” — was commissioned in the Navy. He served for three years, including two as the supply officer on a destroyer in Asia as the Korean War was winding down. His own budding pacifism had incongruous awakenings, as he would read aloud Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience to an anti-aircraft gun mount crew through “long and mostly tedious drills.”

Lockhart’s first legal assignment came in the Navy when he was assigned to defend — not as a trained lawyer — a sailor whose confession to an accusation of petty theft “had been beaten out of him.” And his sense of injustice was further honed when, as a supply officer, Lockhart watched a Taiwanese vegetable merchant, with whom he had negotiated to a fair contract, hauled off to jail for bypassing the customary bribes exacted by Chinese Nationalist Harbor Masters as the price for suppliers’ harbor access for resupply of U.S. Navy ships.

After Navy life, Lockhart embraced nature again, working briefly before law school for the U.S. Forest Service in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest.

The seeds of his young life — an unbreakable relationship to nature, empathy for and nurture of others, and an unwavering sense of what’s right — flowered in law school. It was at the University of Minnesota that Lockhart’s values and impulses toward justice found a niche.

Lockhart’s interest in administrative law dates to his study and work under Professor Kenneth Culp Davis, one of the nation’s preeminent authorities on administrative law and a “founder” of this practice area.

The sway of Davis “dramatically influenced me,” Lockhart says. “His demand for precision in thinking about administrative law, and more importantly, his insistence on the importance of law as both a source of empowered discretion to do good, and as a crucial constraint on abuse of that discretion,” became guideposts for Lockhart’s own work.

Lockhart worked extensively with Davis on projects for the Administrative Conference of the United States, which from 1968 to 1981 was an independent federal agency with a mandate to study the administrative process and make recommendations to improve the fairness and effectiveness of federal administrative agencies.

In conducting an extensive study of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in food and drug case under Davis’ tutelage, “I was particularly struck by some federal prosecutors’ casual disregard for policy goals and for even-handedness,” he says, “rooted in the hubris of inadequately checked power.”

Lockhart worked as an associate at Gray, Plant, Moody and Anderson, a Minneapolis law firm, for four years before moving to Utah in 1964 to teach at the College of Law. He soon found his voice as a zealous advocate for the voiceless as well for the nation’s cultural and environmental heritage.

Utah, a New Home

As a law professor, freed of the constraints of private clients and billable hours, Lockhart embraced civil rights and environmental justice.

He eschews formal schools of legal philosophy, “though in general I certainly find resonant the demands of the critical studies movement for recognition of ‘non-legal’ psychic, economic and environmental influences on judicial and institutional choices,” he says.

Instead, Lockhart favors a practical and direct hands-on approach to shaping common law, statute writing, and administrative practice. As a teacher, he has continually sought to shape his courses to bring in the factual contexts and practical dynamics that drive specific cases and the development of legal doctrine.

Lockhart’s pragmatic liberalism opened the door to a unique opportunity in 1974 when he was appointed United States Attorney under an interim appointment by Judge Willis Ritter. Serving in that office for six months, he was responsible for administering President Ford’s Clemency Program for Viet Nam draft evaders in Utah. He granted amnesty to all Utah evaders, supported by a careful memorandum to the Justice Department emphasizing the severe inconsistencies, vagueness and prejudicial delay inherent in prior prosecution policies in those cases.  (See his article “Discretionary Clemency: Mercy At The Prosecutors’ Option,” 1976 Utah Law Review 55.)

His pro bono clients have included a past president of Utah’s branch of the National Association of for the Advancement of Colored People, the president of the Utah State Senate, a schoolteacher named by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a communist, the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning. His work has ranged from public policy to litigating administrative findings of fact and law.

The NAACP Salt Lake Branch recognized Lockhart for Outstanding Civil Rights Work in 1968 and 1969, as did the Southern Utah Wilderness alliance for environmental advocacy.

Though too numerous and complex to account here, a few of Lockhart’s cases include:

  • A U.S. District Court challenge to the MX Missel program, representing the then-president of the Utah Senate (and later gubernatorial candidate) Karl Snow, as well as legislators from Nevada and Wyoming
  • A U.S. District Court challenge to Utah’s adoption of a resolution ratifying a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” decision in Reynolds v. Sims
  • Defending Chief Judge Willis W. Ritter, U.S. District Court for Utah, before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for ethics charges arising in part from Ritter’s refusal to bring draft evasion charges on for trial during the Vietnam War
  • Representing the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental NGOs in U.S. District Court, successfully defending a decision by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall that had declared an area near Bryce Canyon National Park as “unsuitable for surface coal mining”
  • Representing the National Parks & Conservation Association (NPCA) and others in challenging the plan to situate a repository for high-level radioactive waste in the Canyonlands Basin, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park
  • Representing NPCA in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in successfully challenging a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management approving an airport close by Glen Canyon Recreation Area
  • In Bonham v. Morgan, Lockhart represented the National Parks and Conservation Association, as amicus, before the Utah Supreme Court, with primary brief and oral argument. The court adopted Lockhart’s position, that state officials be required to adopt a “public interest” standard in adjudicating applications to permanently change water uses.  788 P.2d 497 (Utah 1989).
  • Representing conservation groups in a series of cases challenging the Bureau of Land Management, Garfield County, and other state agencies in their efforts to pave the “Burr Trail” that transects the southern primitive part of Capitol Reef National Park, including intervention in a federal action for criminal trespass against the County for carving off the edge of a hill to aid its unauthorized road work
  • Representing conservation groups in Colorado and Utah in a successful challenge before the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals on the granting of oil and gas development permits within the historic setting of the Hovenweap National Monument. Colorado Environmental Coalition, et al, 108 IBLA 10.

The list could go on. The common beneficiary of his work, as he sees it, has been the public, which has seen legal and administrative doctrines modified, and decisions reversed or mitigated in revered places, such as Capitol Reef National Park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

These public lands and places represent “the few remaining slices of our natural and cultural heritage that formed, resonate with, and hopefully preserve the better qualities of our national character,” Lockhart says. His passion for preservation, as well as much of his earlier activism, he shares with his wife, Terri Martin, herself a former regional director of the National Parks & Conservation Association, and now a community dialogue facilitator. He credits her with sharpening his insight in recognizing that a “central problem in fulfilling the preservation mission is that each generation comes to our heritage assuming that conditions as they see it are the foundation point — the starting point from which compromises may go forward in the interest of material ‘progress’ — never recognizing the succession of previous compromises and their cumulative consequences.”

Lockhart proudly shares his engagement with the land with his four children, Zoey 16, Ann (Santa Fe, historic restoration), William B. (Utah Law Grad, pro bono matters), and Laura (Utah AG environment division, Yale Law).

International Reach

“Bill’s early insights and vision were extremely helpful in conceiving the Stegner Center,” Prof. Keiter says. “And he continues to help us broaden our programs and reach, particularly into the international area over the past few years.”

Beginning in 2000, Lockhart received the first of two Fulbright research grants to study environmental decision making in India. Lockhart has built on those relationships, creating reciprocal relationships, such as having Indian scholars speak at the College of Law, as well as law school faculty present findings in India.

While he has shared a half-century of his legal experience in the United States, his encounters with the Indian legal system and environmental decision-making have continued Lockhart’s own learning. And Lockhart continues to share his new knowledge-base with College of Law students.

As poorer nations, such as India, rush with little environmental heed into an accelerating race for standing in the global marketplace, Lockhart has now undertaken to engage students in the nitty gritty of Indian and other international litigation through his new International Environmental Practicum course. “It is not too much to hope,” he says, “that the environmental mistakes we’ve made may provoke second thought in India and other developing nations if their legal system can provide the focus for reconsideration.”

Life’s Lessons

After decades of legal battles, Lockhart emphasizes his concern for fundamental problems that handicap better service of the public interest in environmental law and civil rights. These problems “basically reflect a kind of intellectual constipation and accompanying legal rigidity that insists on keeping old forms and practices that no longer — or never did — serve the public interest,” he says.

“First, there is the obvious need to sever and reverse the rigid control that powerful financial interests and institutions exercise over the expression and realization of individual political and economic viewpoints and resulting policy making,” he says. “For example, law students are victims of a kind of wage slavery called student loans, or similar financial blackmail, which demands that the victims, when they go into the legal market, abandon independent judgment about institutions and their policies in return for a safe — and silent — financial haven.”

“The result is that policy-making on almost every level, and certainly environmental policy making, is shackled, timid and unresponsive to human and environmental imperatives.

“There is also a parallel need to acknowledge and reverse the growing breadth of unconstrained power available to and being exercised by transnational corporations whose pursuit of financial and resource advantage has already caused immense destruction of critical ecosystems, cultures and livelihoods,” he says.

“Implicit in this is the need to offset the encompassing hubris of these outfits in assuming that the happiness and qualities of personal experience of villagers, rural people and urban wage slaves alike will be advanced by their participation as figures or mathematical integers in market economies that just happen also to be the corporate-controlled playing field.”

“Finally, there is a critical need to measure ‘growth’ and ‘success’ in terms of personal qualities and experience, rather than material wealth, or even material comfort.”

Lockhart takes heart in the prospect that he has influenced generations of lawyers in Utah and elsewhere.

Where Lockhart once had carried forth his legal endeavors with a touch of the swagger of his grandfather’s evangelical preaching, his tone is now more judicious and philosophical, yet expressed no less forcefully than when he battled thunderstorms and rapids in canoes in northern Minnesota as a teenager.

Furthermore, Professor Keiter warns against underestimating Lockhart, who is midway in a phased retirement arrangement after more than four decades at the College of Law.

“Bill’s knowledge of his beloved red rock country is amazing, as is his legendary stamina for hiking southern Utah’s slot canyons and dry washes,” Professor Keiter says. “He has been able to successfully blend his personal and professional passions into an amazing career and engaged life.”