Two broad constitutional concepts have remained ever present in the mind of Judge Thomas R. Brett during his life on the bench: equal protection and due process.
“It might sound like a simplistic formula, but it’s meaningful for a judge,” said Judge Brett, Senior Judge of the United States District Court in the Northern District of Oklahoma.
As a lifelong custodian and servant of the Constitution, Judge Brett has been selected by RSU’s Constitution Award board of governors as the recipient of this year’s Constitution Award.
Judge Brett will receive the award at the university’s annual Constitution Award ceremony on Friday, Sept. 20, on the RSU campus inClaremore.
“We are honored to present Judge Brett with this distinguished award,”said RSU President Joe Wiley, a member of the board of governors.
Each fall since 1987, RSU has presented the Constitution Award to an Oklahoman who has demonstrated a strong commitment to the principles o fthe Constitution through his or her life’s work.
The first RSU Constitution Award was presented to Lyle Boren, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma. Other recipients include Carl Albert, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Henry Bellmon, former Oklahoma governor; the Honorable Marian P. Opala, justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court; Admiral William J. Crowe; David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, and former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor; and Judge James O. Ellison, Senior U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Last year, Alex Adwan, senior editor for the Tulsa World, received the award.
“I’m honored to be selected for this award and humbled to join this league of predecessors,” said Judge Brett, who introduced David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, and former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor, when he received the award in 1997.
In addition to receiving the award, Judge Brett will discuss the importance and endurance of the Constitution with students from RSU and area high schools.
It’s important to be reminded of the significance of the Constitution,”the judge says. “Since 1787, it has held us in great stead and apart from other societies. It’s our commitment to the Constitution that has made us a premier society in the world.”
The Constitution has been a guiding principle for Judge Brett during his 23 years on the bench.
“Within the context of a private enterprise system, the Constitution provides equal protection and rights for all citizens. It helps ensure that we have no second class citizens,” he says.
“It is the foundation document of our society, but has been and should remain a work in progress. For example, women and African-Americans have not always been so impressed with it. We should continue to fine tune it and improve on the concepts of equal protection for all citizens.”
Judge Brett says one of the most significant challenges facing the Constitution today and in the future will be ensuring that all people continue to receive equal protection under the law, irrespective of race, ethnicity and background, as the U.S. becomes a more diverse society. Another challenge will be to utilize advancing technologies such as the use of video in court proceedings while protecting the Constitutional rights of all parties involved.
For the Constitution to endure and thrive, “liberty must remain the hearts of people,” he says.
During a trip to Russia in 1987 to offer advice on the establishment of an independent legal system, Judge Brett met with judges, attorneys and political leaders, and talked with a broad spectrum of Russian citizens. “I was amazed at the negative reaction I received from some people when they found out I was a judge. They took a dim view of judges. They are accustomed to ‘telephone justice.’ Political leaders would call judges on the phone and tell them how to rule. Under a communistic system, due process and equal protection were simply hollow phrases.”
Judge Brett was appointed as U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma in 1979. He presided as Chief Judge from 1994 to1996 and currently serves as Senior Judge.
Judge Brett graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.B.A. in 1953 and received his LL.B. in 1957 and J.D. in 1971 from the University of Oklahoma Law School. He started his legal career as Assistant County Attorney in Tulsa County before entering private practice with the Tulsa firm of Hudson, Wheaton & Brett in 1958. In 1970, he joined the firm of Jones, Givens, Brett, Gotcher, Doyle & Bogan, Inc. until his appointment to the U.S. District Court.
Judge Brett is a member and past president of the Tulsa County Bar Association as well as the Oklahoma Bar Association. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He has served as a member of the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association, and a trustee of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.
In 1991, Judge Brett received the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oklahoma. He received the Tulsa County Bar Association’s Outstanding Senior Lawyer Award (1992-93) and Golden Rule Award (2000). He has also received the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Judicial Excellence Award (1995) and Ethics Award (2001). In 2000, Judge Brett was named to the Oklahoma Heritage Association’s Hall of Fame. He also was awarded the American Inns of Court Foundation 2002 Professionalism Award for theTenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He served on the OU Board of Regents from 1971 to 1978, including a term as president from 1977-78. He served as chairman and co-chairman for two presidential search committees for OU. He has also served as director of the OU College of Law Alumni Association.
He is a retired colonel for the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General. He graduated from the Command and General Staff College, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and Air War College. He served as director of the National Security Management Course at the 1978 U.S. Army Reserve School in Tulsa.
He was born in Oklahoma City, and has four children and 11 grandchildren. He is married to Mary James Brett.
Tickets to the Constitution Award luncheon and ceremony are $20 per person.