Neil Thomas Proto’s public service and private practice in law included more than 40 years of work in land use, environmental, and federal litigation. He has taught at Yale and Georgetown universities and has written and spoken on a broad range of cultural and legal matters. He stopped practicing law in 2013 and remains a member of the United States Supreme Court and District of Columbia bars.
Since 1972, both as an appellate attorney with the United States Department of Justice (Environment and Natural Resources Division, 1972–1979) and in private practice in Washington, DC, Mr. Proto has been involved in numerous legal, cultural, and political challenges, including contentious Native American litigation in South Dakota in support of the preservation of Sioux Reservations; a visit to the Sierra Madres mountains with the Mexican Army and Drug Enforcement Administration officers to witness drug eradication programs in support of State Department litigation; his pro bono representation of Protect Historic America (authors and historians such as David McCullough and James McPherson) in its successful effort to stop Disney from locating in the Virginia Piedmont (see below Washington Monthly, 1994, and New York Times, 1994); and in 2011 and 2012, civil rights and environmental litigation that stopped the construction of a toll road in Northern Virginia. In 1993, Mr. Proto drafted a unique statutory scheme at the behest of the State of Hawaii that resulted in the conveyance of Kaho’olawe Island from the United States to Hawaii for the special use of Native Hawaiians. He continued to represent Hawaii as counsel in its dealings with the United States through 2003 and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in various other matters concerning Native Hawaiians.
Mr. Proto was a periodic adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt Public Policy Institute for more than 20 years, where he taught interdisciplinary courses on environmental values and energy choices, climate change and corporations, the history and law of nuclear power, and urban policy, law, culture, and sprawl. As a visiting lecturer at Yale (1988 and 1989), he taught the history and law of commercial nuclear power. Earlier in his career, he served as general counsel to the president’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee, chaired by then-Arizona governor, later presidential candidate and Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt.
In April 2010, he served as a senior adviser to the United States Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference on “National Security Beyond the Horizon: Changing Threats in a Changing World,” and in August 2010, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.
Numerous articles written about and by Mr. Proto include (others are listed on other sites):
His talks include the following:
His literary and theatrical works include the following:
Mr. Proto was elected to the Board of Directors of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (Hyde Park, New York) in July 2004 for a three-year term. He had served on the original Advisory Board of the student- created Roosevelt Institution before its merger with the Roosevelt Institute. He served as chair of the American Friends of Wilton Park, a British-American educational organization with origins in World War II. He sat on the Board of Directors of the Shubert Theatre and the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. He also served as chair of the City of New Haven’s Committee for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Execution of Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco in 2002, and he also coadapted from the original Dutch (with director Tony Giordano) the musical drama, The American Dream: The Story of Sacco and Vanzetti (performed at the Shubert in April 2002). In 2021, at the request of United States Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut) and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, he served as counsel and historian to the Wooster Square Monument Committee established to select a new monument (selected and approved in 2023) to celebrate the Italian American contribution to New Haven, Mr. Proto’s place of birth.
Mr. Proto was a recipient of the Department of Justice Special Commendation Award for Outstanding Service and the Environment and Natural Resources Division Award for Meritorious Service. Mr. Proto also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Southern Connecticut State University in 1981. He was recognized repeatedly by his peers through Martindale-Hubbell with the “Highest Possible Rating (AV) in both Legal Ability and Ethical Standards” and among the “2013 Top Rated Lawyers in Energy, Environmental, and Natural Resources.”
Mr. Proto donated the “SCRAP Papers”⎯documents and photographs from the inception of SCRAP’s formation in 1971 through the United States Supreme Court litigation and the documents, news articles, and related papers that formed the basis for his book To a High Court (2006 ed.)⎯to the George Washington University Law School Library in 2009. Also in 2009, he donated to the Gelman Library Archives his collection of memorabilia, photographs, related national and university newspaper articles, posters (SDS, the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, for which he served as chair of Young Citizens for Kennedy in Connecticut), university directives, and residence hall policies (Proto served as a resident director) during the Vietnam anti-war era of 1968 to 1972. (See Guide to the Neil Thomas Proto Papers, 1968–2006). He also has donated his collection of research for his book Rights of My People and his legal work for Native Hawaiians to the University of Hawaii Law School and his documents, correspondence, and photographs of aspects of his early life, teaching, and selected legal and civic experiences to Southern Connecticut State University. Mr. Proto established and endowed, in 2018, “The Neil Thomas Proto Mayoral Papers” at Southern Connecticut State University to house the official papers of New Haven mayors beginning in 1980, and in 2014, he endowed a scholarship for Southern Connecticut State University students to attend law school. He has donated papers concerning the Giamatti family to Mt. Holyoke College and established a multiyear field grant at the Royal Geographical Society of London.
A more nuanced description of his life, experiences, and literary and theatrical works are contained in www.NeilThomasProto.com and at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Thomas_Proto.