University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Robert B. Keiter is well-known for his legal scholarship around the country.
In addition to his role as the Wallace Stegner Professor of Law, a University Distinguished Professor, and founding director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment , he’s a published author with many works that explore both environmental law and the constitution.
In his newly published book, The Wyoming State Constitution, Keiter dives into Wyoming’s colorful constitutional history. He discussed his latest work in a recent Q&A with the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
Q: Describe your new book and the themes it explores.
A: Twenty five years ago, I co-authored the first book on the Wyoming State Constitution as part of a fifty volume scholarly series on state constitutions. Each book in the series explained the history of that state’s constitution, the amendments, and the principal judicial decisions interpreting its various provisions. My new book, a second edition published by Oxford University Press, updates that volume. It describes the new amendments added to the Wyoming Constitution and provides a section-by-section analysis of the Wyoming Supreme Court’s recent constitutional decisions. It explains how the Wyoming Supreme Court is developing a distinct state constitutional jurisprudence and the standards it is using to interpret this fundamental charter of state government. It highlights separate provisions granting greater rights to the state’s citizens than are available under the U.S. Constitution and key provisions establishing the framework for state government, noting important equal protection and separation of powers court decisions.
Q: What made you want to dig deeper into the Wyoming State Constitution?
A: Having spent the first 15 years of my law professor career at the University of Wyoming where I taught constitutional law, I was intrigued by the state’s constitution and the numerous provisions that had no counterpart in the federal constitution. This also was a time, in the aftermath of the Warren Court, when lawyers were beginning to examine state constitutions to expand the rights available to their clients, because the U.S. Supreme Court was busy limiting some rights under the federal constitution. Under longstanding federalism principles, the Supreme Court recognized that states, as “laboratories of democracy,” were entitled to extend rights to their citizens that were not available nationally. I was particularly intrigued that the Wyoming Constitution, which was adopted in 1890, made Wyoming the first state to grant women the franchise. Add to this that the Wyoming Constitution contains at least three separate equal protection provisions, established an innovative water law system, and was amended to create a state Mineral Trust Fund, and I felt the state’s unique constitutional charter deserved careful study and analysis. What I have learned is that during the past 127 years, Wyoming’s constitutional law has evolved in a way that is both pragmatic and progressive, enabling the state to meet the challenges it has faced in our ever-changing world.
Q: What do you hope law students and the casual reader will walk away knowing that they didn’t know before?
A: The book introduces law students and general readers to the world of state constitutional law in the distinctive Wyoming setting. It contains a brief history of how the state’s constitution was drafted and amended, along with an overview of how the Wyoming Supreme Court has gone about interpreting it. This second edition, besides compiling the recent amendments and court decisions, highlights the Wyoming Supreme Court’s emerging principles for interpreting the document’s various provisions. It also discusses separation of powers conflicts that have surfaced between the legislature and the governor and other executive officials, groundbreaking Native American reserved water rights decisions, and the state land board’s powers and responsibilities. I believe that the state’s lawyers and judges will find the book helpful when confronted with a state constitutional issue. And I think others would find it useful to better understand state constitutions, the institutions they have spawned, and the rights they protect.