Dallin H. Oaks

Dallin H. Oaks

Photo of Dallin H. Oaks lecture at Harvard Law School.

Dallin H. Oaks, February 26, 2010, speaking at Harvard Law School on the foundations of Mormonism.
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 7, 1984 (1984-04-07)
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
LDS Church Apostle
May 3, 1984 (1984-05-03)
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
Reason Deaths of LeGrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen[1]
8th President of Brigham Young University
In office
August 1971  August 1980[2]
Predecessor Ernest L. Wilkinson
Successor Jeffrey R. Holland
Military career
Service/branch United States National Guard
Unit Utah National Guard
Personal details
Born Dallin Harris Oaks
(1932-08-12) August 12, 1932
Provo, Utah, United States
Alma mater Brigham Young University (B.S.)
University of Chicago Law School (J.D.)
Occupation Lawyer, Judge
Spouse(s) June Dixon (1952–1998; deceased)
Kristen Meredith McMain (2000–present)
Children 6
Parents Lloyd E. Oaks
Stella Harris
Awards Canterbury Medal
Signature of Dallin H. Oaks

Dallin Harris Oaks (born August 12, 1932) is an American attorney, jurist, author, professor, and religious leader. Since 1984, he has been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He was president of Brigham Young University (BYU), a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Oaks was considered by Republican U.S. presidential administrations as a top prospect for appointment to the United States Supreme Court. Currently, he is the third most senior apostle in the LDS Church.[3]

Background and education

Oaks was born in Provo, Utah, to Stella Harris and Lloyd E. Oaks. Through his mother, he is a 2nd great-grand-nephew of one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris.[4] He was given the name Dallin in honor of Utah artist Cyrus Dallin; Oaks's mother was the artist's model for The Pioneer Mother, a public statue in Springville, Utah;[5] she was present for the unveiling of the statue less than three weeks before his birth.[6] His father, who was an ophthalmologist, died of tuberculosis when Dallin was seven years old.[7] Both of Oaks's parents were graduates of BYU. After Oaks's father died, his mother pursued a graduate degree at Columbia University and later served as head of adult education for the Provo School District. In 1956, she became the first woman to sit on the Provo City Council,[8] and served for two terms.[9] In 1958, she also briefly served as Provo's assistant mayor.[10]

Oaks graduated from Brigham Young High School in 1950. While in high school he played football[11] and became a certified radio engineer. He then attended BYU, where he occasionally served as a radio announcer at high school basketball games. It was at one of these basketball games where he met June Dixon, a senior at the high school, whom he would eventually marry. Due to his membership in the Utah National Guard and the threat of being called up to serve in the Korean War, Oaks was unable to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church.[12] In 1952, Oaks married Dixon in the Salt Lake Temple. He graduated from BYU with a degree in accounting in 1954.[13]

Oaks then went on to the University of Chicago Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the University of Chicago Law Review.[14][15] Oaks graduated with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in 1957.


Oaks clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1958. After his clerkship, he practiced at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago. Oaks left Kirkland & Ellis to become a professor at the University of Chicago Law School in 1961.[16] During part of his time on the faculty of the Law School, Oaks served as interim dean. He taught primarily in the fields of trust and estate law, as well as gift taxation law. He worked with George Bogert on a new edition of a casebook on trusts. In 1968, he became a founding member of the editorial board of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought; he resigned from the journal in early 1970. In 1969, Oaks served as chairman of the University of Chicago disciplinary committee. In conducting hearings against those who had been involved in a sit-in at the administration building, Oaks was physically attacked twice.[17] During the first half of 1970, Oaks took a leave of absence from the University of Chicago while serving as legal counsel to the Bill of Rights Committee of the Illinois Constitutional Convention, which caused him to work closely with the committee chair, Elmer Gertz.[18] Oaks left the University of Chicago Law School upon being appointed president of BYU in 1971.

Oaks also served five years as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)[13] (1979–84)[19] and eight years as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Polynesian Cultural Center.[13]

President of Brigham Young University

Oaks while president of BYU (1977)

From 1971 to 1980, Oaks served as the 8th president of Brigham Young University (BYU), the largest religious university in the United States.[13] Oaks oversaw the start of the J. Reuben Clark Law School and the Graduate Business School. Although university enrollment continued to grow and new buildings were added, neither was done at the pace of the previous administration under Ernest L. Wilkinson.

Other major changes under Oaks included implementing a three-semester plan with full fall and winter semesters, and a split spring and summer term. This also shifted the end of the fall term to before Christmas. Oaks also oversaw a large scale celebration of the BYU Centennial.[20]

While at BYU, Oaks led an effort to fight the application of Title IX to non-educational programs at schools that did not accept direct government aid. BYU was one of two initial schools to voice opposition to these policies.[21] This issue ultimately ended in an agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and BYU that allowed BYU to retain requirements that all unmarried students live in gender-specific housing be they on or off campus.[22]

Utah Supreme Court

Upon leaving BYU, Oaks was appointed as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court. He served in this capacity from 1980 to 1984, when he resigned after being appointed by the LDS Church as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[13] In 1976, Oaks was listed by U.S. attorney general Edward H. Levi among potential Gerald Ford Supreme Court candidates.[23] In 1981, he was closely considered by the Ronald Reagan administration as a Supreme Court nominee.[24][25]

Scholarly research and notable opinions

As a law professor, Oaks focused his scholarly research on the writ of habeas corpus and the exclusionary rule. In California v. Minjares,[26] Justice William Rehnquist, in a dissenting opinion, wrote "[t]he most comprehensive study on the exclusionary rule is probably that done by Dallin Oaks for the American Bar Foundation in 1970.[27] According to this article, it is an open question whether the exclusionary rule deters the police from violating Fourth Amendment protections of individuals.

Oaks also undertook a legal analysis of the Nauvoo City Council's actions against the Nauvoo Expositor. He opined that while the destruction of the Expositor's printing press was legally questionable, under the law of the time the newspaper certainly could have been declared libelous and therefore a public nuisance by the Nauvoo City Council. As a result, Oaks concludes that while under contemporaneous law it would have been legally permissible for city officials to destroy, or "abate," the actual printed newspapers, the destruction of the printing press itself was probably outside of the council's legal authority, and its owners could have sued for damages.[28]

As a Utah Supreme Court Justice from 1980 to 1984, Oaks authored opinions on a variety of topics. In In Re J. P.,[29] a proceeding was instituted on a petition of the Division of Family Services to terminate parental rights of natural mother. Oaks wrote that a parent has a fundamental right protected by the Constitution to sustain his relationship with his child but that a parent can nevertheless be deprived of parental rights upon a showing of unfitness, abandonment, and substantial neglect.

In KUTV, Inc. v. Conder,[30] media representatives sought review by appeal and by a writ of prohibition of an order barring the media from using the words "Sugarhouse rapist" or disseminating any information on past convictions of defendant during the pendency of a criminal trial. Oaks, in the opinion delivered by the court, held that the order barring the media from using the words "Sugarhouse rapist" or disseminating any information on past convictions of defendant during the pendency of the criminal trial was invalid on the ground that it was not accompanied by the procedural formalities required for the issuance of such an order.

In Wells v. Children's Aid Soc. of Utah,[31] an unwed minor father brought action through a guardian ad litem seeking custody of a newborn child that had been released to state adoption agency and subsequently to adoptive parents, after the father had failed to make timely filing of his acknowledgment of paternity as required by statute. Oaks, writing the opinion for the court, held that statute specifying procedure for terminating parental rights of unwed fathers was constitutional under due process clause of United States Constitution.

Among works edited by Oaks is a collection of essays entitled The Wall Between Church and State. Since becoming an apostle, Oaks has consistently spoken in favor of religious freedom and warned that it is under threat.[32] He testified as an official representative of the church in behalf of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act during congressional hearings in 1991,[33] and then again in 1998.[34] This was one of few occasions on which the church has sent a representative to testify on behalf of a bill before the U.S. Congress.[35]

LDS Church apostle

Oaks (far right) with LDS Church president Thomas S. Monson (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama (center) in the Oval Office on 20 July 2009, presenting a personal volume of President Obama's family history as a gift from the LDS Church.

On April 7, 1984, during the Saturday morning session of the LDS Church's general conference, Oaks was sustained an apostle and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Oaks is accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Although sustained on April 7, Oaks was not ordained an apostle until May 3, 1984. He was given this time between sustaining and ordination to complete his judicial commitments.[36] Of the shift from judge to apostolic witness, Oaks commented, "Many years ago, Thomas Jefferson coined the metaphor, 'the wall between church and state.' I have heard the summons from the other side of the wall. I'm busy making the transition from one side of the wall to the other."[19]

At age 51, he was the youngest apostle in the quorum at the time and the youngest man to be called to the quorum since Boyd K. Packer, who was called in 1970 at age 45. By date of ordination, since September 2015 he has been the second senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, preceded by Russell M. Nelson, the quorum president.

From 2002 to 2004, Oaks presided over the church's area in the Philippines. Responsibility for presiding over church areas is generally delegated to members of the Quorums of the Seventy. The assignment of Oaks, along with Jeffrey R. Holland serving in Chile at the same time, was aimed at addressing challenges in developing areas of the church, including rapid growth in membership, the need to retaining the new members, and training local leadership.[37]

On February 26, 2010, Oaks addressed students at the annual Mormonism 101 Series convened at Harvard Law School.[38][39]

One of his current assignments is being a member of the governing board of Church-owned schools.

In April 2015, included as part of an assignment to tour Argentina, Oaks gave a speech on religious freedom to the Argentine Council for International Relations.[40]

Awards and honors

Oaks earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1947,[41] and he was honored with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 1984.[41][42] He was named "Judge of the Year" by the Utah State Bar in 1984,[43] and he was bestowed the Lee Lieberman Otis Award for Distinguished Service by the Federalist Society in 2012.[44] He received the Canterbury Medal from the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom in 2013,[45] and he received the Pillar of the Valley Award by Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2014.[46]

Students at the University of Chicago Law School created the Dallin H. Oaks Society to "increase awareness within the Law School community of the presence, beliefs, and concerns of law students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".[47]


Oaks married June Dixon on June 24, 1952. She died on July 21, 1998. They had six children, including Dallin D. Oaks, a linguistics professor at BYU,[48] and Jenny Oaks Baker, a violinist.

On August 25, 2000, Oaks married Kristen Meredith McMain in the Salt Lake Temple.[49] McMain was in her early 50s and had previously served a mission for the LDS Church in the Japan Sendai Mission. McMain has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Utah and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from BYU.[50]


  • Oaks, Dallin H. (2001). "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon". In Hoskisson, Paul Y. Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures. Religious Studies Center monograph series, v. 18. Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. pp. 238–248. ISBN 978-1-57734-928-0. OCLC 48749213. 
  • (1999). "The missionary work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". In Witte, John; Martin, Richard C. Sharing The Book: religious perspectives on the rights and wrongs of proselytism. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 1570752761. OCLC 42290427. 
  • (1995). "Rights and Responsibilities". In Etzioni, Amitai. Rights and the Common Good: the Communitarian Perspective. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312102720. OCLC 31614187. 

See also


  1. Oaks and Russell M. Nelson were ordained to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles caused by the deaths of Richards and Petersen.
  2. Bergera, Gary James; Priddis, Ronald (1985). "Chapter 1: Growth & Development". Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 0-941214-34-6. OCLC 12963965.
  3. Apostolic seniority is generally understood to include all 15 ordained apostles (including the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Seniority is determined by date of ordination, not by age or other factors. If two apostles are ordained on the same day, the older of the two is typically ordained first. See Succession to the presidency and Heath, Steven H. (Summer 1987). "Notes on Apostolic Succession" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 20 (2): 44–56..
  4. Dallin H. Oaks, "The Witness: Martin Harris" In: General Conference, April 1999
  5. "The Pioneer Mother", history.utah.gov, Markers and Monuments Database, Utah State History, Utah Department of Heritage and Arts
  6. Hardy, Rodger L. (July 7, 2009), "Elder Oaks dedicates Springville sculpture garden", Deseret News
  7. "Prophets and Apostles: Dallin H. Oaks", lds.org, retrieved 3 September 2014.
  8. "Harold E. Van Wagenen", Historical Provo, Provo City Library, retrieved 2014-01-17
  9. Wilkinson, Ernest L., ed. (1976), Brigham Young University: The First 100 Years, 4, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, pp. 10–13
  10. Historical Provol: George M. Hinckley, Provo City Library, retrieved 2014-01-17
  11. "Dallin H. Oaks as a young football player at Brigham Young High School", BYU Campus Photographs Collection, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1970–1975 [1946-1950], retrieved 2014-01-17
  12. Wilkinson. BYU. pp. 13–14.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 "Dallin H. Oaks: Judge, University President, Apostle; Brigham Young High School Class of 1950", BYH Biographies: Alumni, Brigham Young High School Alumni Association, retrieved 2014-01-17
  14. "Dallin H. (Harris) Oaks", Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages, William O. Lewis, III, retrieved 2014-01-17
  15. Dunaway, Clint (5 January 2010), "Harvard Law School to Present Elder Dallin H. Oaks", MormonLawyers.com, Dunaway Law Group (Mesa, Arizona), retrieved 2014-01-17
  16. Wilkinson. BYU. Vol. 4, p. 20.
  17. Wilkinson. BYU. Vol. 4, pp. 20–22.
  18. Wilkinson. BYU. Vol. 4, pp. 22–23.
  19. 1 2 Cazier, Bob (May 1984). "Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles". Ensign. pp. 89–90. Retrieved 2008-07-22.
  20. Butterworth, Edwin, Jr. (October 1975), "Eight Presidents: A Century at BYU", Ensign
  21. "BYU Receives Support on Stand against Sex Bias Rules", Ensign, February 1978
  22. "BYU, Justice Department Agree on Housing Policy", Ensign, August 1978
  23. Yalof, David Alistair. Pursuit of Justices: Presidential Politics and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices (2001), p. 127.
  24. Gehrke, Robert (August 18, 2005), "LDS apostle was studied for '81 court", Salt Lake Tribune
  25. The position was ultimately filled by Sandra Day O'Connor, fulfilling a campaign promise made by Reagan to appoint a woman to the court.
  26. 443 U.S. 916 (1979).
  27. Dallin H. Oaks, "Studying the Exclusionary Rule in Search and Seizure", 37 University of Chicago Law Review 665 (1970).
  28. Oaks, Dallin H. "The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor." Utah Law Review 9 (Winter 1965):862–903.
  29. 648 P.2d 1364 (Utah 1982).
  30. 668 P.2d 513 (Utah 1983).
  31. 681 P.2d 199 (Utah 1984).
  32. Landsberg, Mitchell (February 5, 2011), "Religious freedom under siege, Mormon leader says", Los Angeles Times
  33. Gedicks, Frederick M. (1999), "No Man's Land: The Place of Latter-day Saints in the Culture War", BYU Studies, 38 (3): 148
  34. Oaks, Dallin H. (Spring 1998), "Statement Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary" (PDF), Clark Memorandum, J. Reuben Clark Law School, BYU: 21
  35. "Elder Oaks Testifies before U.S. Congressional Subcommittee", Ensign, News of the Church, July 1992: Article states this was the third time that an official of the LDS Church brought an official stance to Congress, and in his testimony Oaks stated that his actions as an official church spokesperson were an exception to the general rule of the church not taking a stand on pending legislation.
  36. Hinckley, Gordon B. (May 1984), "Sustaining of Church Officers", Ensign: 4.
  37. Moore, Carrie (April 10, 2002). "2 apostles assigned to live outside U.S". Deseret News.
  38. "Apostle Addresses Harvard Audience on Mormon Faith". Newsroom [MormonNewsroom.org]. News Story. LDS Church. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 2014-01-17.
  39. Sheffield, Carrie; Askar, Jamshid (February 27, 2010), "Don't marginalize religion, Elder Oaks says to Harvard law students", Deseret News, retrieved 2014-01-14
  40. Jason Swensen, "Elder Oaks warns of rising secularism, champions religious freedom", Church News, April 23, 2015.
  41. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 5, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  42. http://www.utahscouts.org/eagle-scout-alumni-nesa/national-eagle-scout-association-nesa/54100
  43. http://www.utahbar.org/bar-operations/judge-of-the-year-award/
  44. "Federalist Society honors Elder Dallin H. Oaks, JD'57". May 15, 2012.
  45. "Elder Dallin H. Oaks Honored for Championing Religious Freedom", Newsroom [MormonNewsroom.org], News Release, LDS Church, May 16, 2013
  46. http://utahvalley360.com/2014/03/29/lighter-side-of-elder-oaks-shines-at-pillar-of-the-valley/
  47. "Dallin H. Oaks Society", law.uchicago.edu, Student Organizations, University of Chicago Law School, retrieved 2014-01-17
  48. "Dallin Dixon Oaks", Department of Linguistics and English Language, Directory, BYU
  49. Oaks, Dallin H. (October 2003), "Timing", Ensign
  50. "2011 Time Out for Women Tour: Kristen M. Oaks", deseretbook.com, Deseret Book, archived from the original on 2012-03-06


External links

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Russell M. Nelson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
May 3, 1984 –
Succeeded by
M. Russell Ballard
Academic offices
Preceded by
Ernest L. Wilkinson
 President of Brigham Young University 
1971 – 1980
Succeeded by
Jeffrey R. Holland
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