UC remembers human rights defender William J. Butler

Urban Morgan Institute founder’s legacy inspires UC grads to fight for ‘little guy’

The University of Cincinnati is remembering attorney William J. Butler, who worked diligently to defend human rights both in the U.S. and abroad, including founding the Urban Morgan Institute at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Butler died on Sunday, June 7. He was 96.

Bert Lockwood, director of UC’s Urban Morgan Institute, never forgot the advice that Butler gave him one day in the early 1970s. 

Lockwood, then assistant director of the New York University Center for International Studies, ran into the civil libertarian and human rights defender after attending a panel discussion at the City Bar of New York, where Butler had spoken. Lockwood asked Butler why he was so dedicated to human rights issues.

black & white photo of a man in a dark suit in front of a brick wall

William J. Butler photo/UC College of Law file

Butler, Lockwood would recall, quoted his father-in-law, Arthur Garfield Hays, one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union: “I don’t like to see the little guy kicked around.”

In 1977, Butler had the opportunity to stand up for the little guy. His client, Urban Morgan, a former Cincinnatian and son of one of the founders of the U.S. Playing Card Co., died and made Butler sole trustee of his fortune with the stipulation that the money be spent at the university as Butler saw fit. 

Butler had served as staff counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, where he worked closely with Roger Baldwin, one of the organization's founders, and had long been driven by a passion for human rights. In subsequent years, he twice argued and won landmark civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also served on the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), where he negotiated one-on-one with the Shah of Iran on measures needed to eliminate torture and repression.

Bill Butler was an extraordinary man of vision. Because of him, Cincinnati Law has been on the forefront of creating a cadre of human rights advocates and developing a robust body of knowledge to advance the cause.

Verna Williams, UC College of Law dean

It came as little surprise, then, that Butler decided to use the late Morgan’s benefaction to create what would become the first endowed institute at an American law school devoted to international human rights law.

The Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, created in 1979, would establish the UC College of Law as a world leader in legal education and human rights scholarship.

The institute, which holds the distinction of being the oldest endowed human rights institute in the nation, offers students the opportunity to meet with leading figures in the international community, join the Human Rights Quarterly, the world’s leading academic journal on the subject, and travel across the globe each summer on “externships.”

“Bill Butler was an extraordinary man of vision. Because of him, Cincinnati Law has been on the forefront of creating a cadre of human rights advocates and developing a robust body of knowledge to advance the cause,” said Verna Williams, UC College of Law dean and Nippert Professor of Law. “Mr. Butler made a significant impact on the field and on the college. He will be missed.”  

Butler’s work with the ICJ took him on human rights missions to the Philippines, Guatemala, Palau, South Africa and Uruguay, where he focused on issues such as state terror, torture, disappearances and genocide. 

In 2000, Butler was named as the United Nations High Commissioner's Special Regional Adviser on Human Rights for North America. The following year, he convened a worldwide meeting of experts which resulted in the issuance of the Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction.

Bill’s great achievement through the Urban Morgan Institute is that there is a squadron of Morgan graduates ‘who don’t like to see the little guy get kicked around!’

Bert Lockwood

Black and white photo of two men in suits sitting at a table talking

Bert Lockwood, the first and current director of the Urban Morgan Institute at UC College of Law, and Bill Butler in this undated photograph. Photo/UC College of Law file

Butler served on a number of boards and committees throughout his distinguished career, including the Urban Affairs Commission of the American Jewish Congress, New York Civil Liberties Union, International League for Human Rights, American League to Abolish Capital Punishment and the Human Rights Committee of the World Peace through the Law Center in Geneva.

In 2000, the Urban Morgan Institute established the William J. Butler Human Rights Medal in recognition of the traits epitomized by Butler: courage, creativity and tenacity.

The UC College of Law Robert S. Marx Library is home to the papers of William J. Butler, which include speeches, letters, congressional testimony and other personal and professional writings that document Butler’s human rights contributions.

“Bill leaves a large void. He will be missed; but he will continue to inspire us to tackle the many and unending challenges facing the international human rights community,” said Lockwood. “Bill’s great achievement through the Urban Morgan Institute is that there is a squadron of Morgan graduates ‘who don’t like to see the little guy get kicked around!’”

Read WIlliam J. Butler's obituary here.

Featured image at top: UC College of Law in spring. Photo/Dottie Stover/UC Creative + Brand

Related Stories

3

DAAP Fashion Show April 26: 2019 freshmen graduating with style,...

Event: April 26, 2024 7:30 PM

Twenty-eight University of Cincinnati student designers will showcase their collections at the 71st DAAP Live Fashion show, starting at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 26, at MegaCorp Pavilion, an indoor/outdoor concert venue adjacent to Newport on the Levy in northern Kentucky.

Debug Query for this