Law Spotlight: Gordon Levitt

Addressing climate change and resolving conflict at Oregon Law

Gordon Levitt, class of 2016 with concurrent M.S. in conflict and dispute resolution and J.D. in environmental and natural resources law

Gordon Levitt, (M.S/J.D., '16), was born in Portland but raised outside of the small town of Mosier, Oregon. The town itself is smaller than one square mile and sits between Hood River and The Dalles. From an early age, Gordon gained an appreciation for nature and the effects of climate change. He decided that the best way to be an advocate for the environment was to know the laws that protect it.

Growing up and working in a predominantly agricultural region, Gordon saw first-hand how much the weather could affect crops. This gave him a greater sense of climate change and the impact it was already having on his hometown, as well as more urban areas.

“I decided to come to law school to learn about the legal frameworks we do have to deal with environmental issues and to learn about what we could do moving forward, both in Oregon and the U.S. more broadly,” he said. “Climate change was the main reason why I came here; to learn what I can do as an advocate on that issue.”

Gordon Levitt, concurrent M.S./J.D. hiking the Columbia River Gorge

Gordon applied this passion throughout his time working toward a combined J.D. in environmental and natural resources law and M.S. in conflict and dispute resolution. He secured a Natural Resources Policy Fellowship with Governor Kate Brown’s Natural Resources Office, helped advocate for the legal right to a stable climate and a healthy atmosphere as a law clerk with Our Children’s Trust, and served as a policy researcher for PolicyInteractive, where he wrote a policy paper on constitutional limitations for carbon pricing proposals in Oregon. Gordon also developed his master’s thesis, "Changing Climate, Changing Commitments: Municipal Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies in Oregon” under the guidance of  Prof. Mary Wood, who pioneered Atmospheric Trust Litigation.

"I chose Oregon Law because of my interest in environmental and natural resources law and policy, conflict resolution, and the school’s emphasis on public service," said Gordon who also earned his BA from the UO's Robert D. Clark Honors College in 2012.

“People here are friendly, passionate about their work, and committed to finding creative solutions to complicated problems,” he continued. “I think this spirit is best reflected by the work of the ENR Law Center, the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, and the Appropriate Dispute Resolution Center. I feel very fortunate to have received fellowships with each of these centers while at the U of O.”

As a first and second-year law student. Gordon helped to organize the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. PIELC is the oldest and most influential gathering of environmental law experts in the world and is operated by Oregon Law students. For PIELC 2014, Gordon helped members of the Amungme and Kamoro Tribes in Indonesia travel to Eugene to deliver one of the most memorable presentations of the conference. “It was very difficult to get them to the U.S., but it was worth it," Gordon recalled. "The tribal leaders delivered an emotional presentation on how they are organizing to protect their culture and land from the impacts of the world’s largest gold mine, which made a big impact on conference attendees."

Gordon Levitt backcountry skiing in the Cascades

Gordon worked as a park ranger for the U.S. Forest Service at Multnomah Falls from 2009 to 2011 and is an avid outdoor adventurer, enjoying hiking, skiing, and climbing. He also enjoys watching Game of Thrones and House of Cards. He will take the Oregon Bar Exam in July and someday hopes to run for public office. After the bar exam, Gordon is excited to begin working as a Climate Law Fellow for Our Children’s Trust.

His advice to incoming students, “Channel your creativity. It’s tempting to solely focus on learning what the ‘law’ is, but I think that it’s also very rewarding to think about what the law could or should be, and then to try to move it in that direction.”

written by Beau Acoba, (intern, School of Journalism and Communications, 2016), photo by Andrea Baysa, (intern, School of Journalism and Communications, 2016)