Joseph Lawrence Sax (February 3, 1936 – March 9, 2014) was an environmental law professor, known for developing the public trust doctrine.[1]

Born and raised in Chicago, Sax graduated from Harvard University in 1957 and then earned a J.D. degree in 1959[2] from the University of Chicago Law School.[1] After a few years in private practice and at the Department of Justice he began teaching, first with the University of Colorado in 1962 and then at the University of Michigan in 1965.[1] He joined the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 1986.[2]

From 1994 to 1996, Sax worked with the Clinton Administration under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.[2]

Sax was involved in environmental and conservation law from early in his career, working with the Sierra Club in Colorado.[1] drafting Michigan's environmental law[1] (known as the "Sax Act")[3] and working on a variety of water resource cases in California.[4]

It was while he was teaching law students at the University of Colorado that he realized that there was no satisfactory theory accounting for the public interest in natural resources law, and that his work was "grooming lawyers who might one day help companies extract resources, mainly from public lands."[1]


  • Playing Darts With a Rembrandt: Public and Private Rights to Cultural Treasures (1999)
  • Mountains Without Handrails
  • Water Law--Planning and Policy
  • Water Law--Cases and Commentary
  • Defending the Environment
Scholarly articles



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Douglas Martin, "Joseph Sax, Who Pioneered Environmental Law, Dies at 78" (obituary), New York Times, March 10, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Joseph L. Sax (faculty profile), Berkeley Law (last visited March 11, 2014).
  3. ^ "Boalt Mourns Loss of Joseph Sax and Henry Ramsey, Jr. '63", Boalt Hall eNews, April 2014.
  4. ^ Dan Farber, "Berkeley Law: Environmental Law", SFGate, Feb. 26, 2012.