Edward H. Levi, 88, the bow-tie-wearing legal scholar and university administrator who was credited with setting a standard for integrity and impartiality as U.S. attorney general in the years after Watergate, died March 7 at his home in Chicago. He had Alzheimer's disease.
Mr. Levi, known for a conservative outlook, keen intelligence and impeccable probity, was president of the University of Chicago from 1968 until 1975, when President Gerald R. Ford tapped him to head the Department of Justice.
At a time of urgent need to restore confidence in law and government, Mr. Levi, who had compiled a long and admired record as teacher, scholar and administrator, was widely hailed as precisely the right choice.
In a statement prepared the day before Mr. Levi's death, Ford called him a "superb attorney general" who was "one of my finest cabinet members" and thanked him for "outstanding service . . . at a very critical time in America's history."
In a recent article discussing qualifications for the Justice post, former senator Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Levi was "the ideal type of appointment." No one, according to Simon, "felt he made decisions on a political basis."
Indeed, in 1976, Mr. Levi named an independent counsel to investigate what was later described as a mere rumor that Ford had received illegal contributions from maritime unions.
The counsel took six months to determine there was nothing to the reports, and the matter was ended.
However, some Republican sympathizers have suggested that Ford's narrow defeat in the 1976 presidential campaign may have owed something to Mr. Levi's actions. They suggested that the attorney general may have responded to the rumor with a degree of nonpartisanship more suited to academe than practical politics.
The years of Watergate and Vietnam gave rise to concern about the misuse of government powers, including invasions of privacy. Among the responses with which Mr. Levi was credited was the creation of rules for the protection of individual rights and for preventing the FBI from targeting people solely because of their politics.
He also took steps to make possible the prosecution of possible offenses committed under the mantle of confidentiality that cloaks government intelligence operations.
At times, the role of attorney general has been seen as consisting, in great part, as serving as a political counselor to the president. Mr. Levi, on the other hand, was seen as exemplifying the attorney general as an independent figure, concerned primarily with the fair and impartial administration of justice.
Ford called him "a perfect choice" to "restore integrity and competence" to the Justice Department.
Also praising his contributions was U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, whom Mr. Levi recruited to teach part time at Chicago.
Teaching law was said to have been the role in which he took the greatest pride.
"The job of legal education," he once said, "is to turn out law students who will continue to learn." He was known for adding insights from economics and the social sciences to the study of law. His special interests ranged from the Constitution to bankruptcy law.
In a statement he made, as did Ford, to the university, Stevens praised Mr. Levi (pronounced LEE-vee) for "wisdom, wit, a quiet grace and a tireless willingness to strive for excellence." Stevens also credited Mr. Levi with a key post-Watergate role in restoring trust in government.
Edward Hirsch Levi was born in Chicago on June 26, 1911, and was closely connected from childhood with the university where he eventually became president emeritus. His grandfather, Rabbi Emil Hirsch, was an early faculty member.
Mr. Levi began his education at the kindergarten of the university's Laboratory School and continued at Chicago through law school. After further study of law at Yale, he joined the Chicago law school faculty in 1936.
After serving in the Justice Department in Washington during World War II, he returned to Chicago in 1945 as a professor of law and five years later became the law school's dean. He became the university's provost in 1962 and was named its president six years later.
His tenure as president came during an age of student protest. "The way of citizenship is through the rights of citizens and constitutional government," he wrote during that period. "It is not through violence, which is self-defeating, which will cause much suffering and which makes effective action more difficult."
He was the author of "An Introduction to Legal Reasoning," published in 1949, and held many academic honors and distinctions.
Survivors include his wife, Kate, three sons and a brother.