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In Memoriam: Environmental Law Pioneer Joseph L. Sax

March 10, 2014

Photo: UC Berkeley School of Law

The Environmental Law Institute mourns the passing of Joseph L. Sax, James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation (Emeritus) at the UC Berkeley School of Law. In 1985, Professor Sax became the second recipient of the ELI Annual Award, honoring his lifetime achievements in environmental law.

A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago Law School, he embarked on his law teaching career at the University of Colorado in 1962, moved to the University of Michigan in 1966, and then Berkeley in 1986. As a pioneer of environmental law in the 1960s, Joe wrote a series of path-breaking articles and books on topics such as regulatory takings, the public trust doctrine, management of the national parks and other public lands, citizen enforcement of environmental law, western water law, and cultural property protection.

Joe Sax was an environmental leader, educator, and activist in the best sense of that word. He believed that the public had important interests in shared resources and advocated community involvement and knowledge.  He viewed the courts as the institution often best suited to protect that interest.

According to Berkeley Law Professor Holly Doremus of the Legal Planet: “Throughout his career he engaged directly and effectively with the issues he cared about in judicial, legislative, and executive fora. He authored amicus briefs, consulted on litigation, and served as an expert witness and consultant. He worked with countless environmental public interest groups and state and federal agencies. He drafted legislation that became Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act, one of the first environmental public participation laws in the nation.”  Yet, in the final analysis, Joe Sax was a teacher, a man dedicated to passing on his extraordinary knowledge to countless classes of future attorneys.  He was well known for his intellect and passion for the environment, but also for his balance, enthusiasm for learning, and dedication to the practice of law.