Elder Oaks is a native of Provo, Utah, and was born August 12, 1932. He and his late wife, June Dixon Oaks, are the parents of six children. She died July 21, 1998. On August 25, 2000, he married Kristen M. McMain in the Salt Lake Temple.
He is a graduate of Brigham Young University (1954) and of the University of Chicago Law School (1957). He practiced law and taught law in Chicago. He was president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980, and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until his resignation in 1984 to accept his calling to the apostleship.
Elder Oaks has been an officer or member of the board of many business, educational, and charitable organizations. He is the author or co-author of many books and articles on religious and legal subjects. In May 2013, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty awarded him the Canterbury Medal for “courage in the defense of religious liberty.”