The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Remembering Professor Joseph L. Sax

Professor Joseph L. Sax, the “father of environmental law,” died Sunday. He was 78.

He died from complications related to strokes, his daughter Katherine Dennett told the New York Times.

Professor Sax was a profoundly influential scholar of environmental law, having written groundbreaking articles on property rights, takings, and the public trust doctrine.  Although deeply involved in policy disputes, he was a scholar first and foremost. He cared about ideas and their consequences, but the ideas came first.  Here are obituaries in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and a remembrance by his colleagues at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.

Professor Sax and I did not agree on very much.  We tangled on several occasions over the past 20 years.  I am sure each encounter was more memorable for me than for him.

The first time we crossed swords, he was advising then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on how to fend off legislative proposals to require compensation for regulatory takings under the Endangered Species Act, and I was a young punk pressing the case for greater property rights protections. He tolerated my impertinence and set an example for how to engage in policy disputes without sacrificing intellectual seriousness.

His presence in the field will be missed.