Notre Dame professor John Copeland Nagle dies at 58

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John Copeland Nagle, Notre Dame Law School’s John N. Matthews Professor of Law, died Saturday following a brief illness. He was 58.

Nagle, an expert on the legislative and regulatory process; environmental and property law; China and the law; and the intersection of religion and the law, joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1998 and became a full professor in 2001.

He served as the law school’s inaugural associate dean for faculty research between 2004 and 2007, becoming the John N. Matthews Professor of Law in 2005. Nagle earned his B.A. in political science and environmental science with high distinction from Indiana University in 1982, and earned his J.D. cum laude in from the University of Michigan Law School in 1986.

“John has been a major figure in the law school as a brilliant scholar, much-loved teacher and mentor, and indispensable colleague,” said Notre Dame Law School Dean Nell Jessup Newton in a statement. “We will all miss him dearly.”

Nagle was a prolific and nationally regarded scholar, with a passion for environmental law. He co-wrote casebooks on “The Practice and Policy of Environmental Law,” “Property Law” and “The Law of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management,” and wrote the book “Law’s Environment: How the Law Shapes the Places We Live.”

His current book projects explored the role of humility and Christian teaching in environmental law and the centrality of scenic values in national parks. 

Several of Nagle’s articles were published in a variety of news publications and law journals, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the Yale Law Journal and the Columbia Law Review. Some of his pieces offered criticism of upgrading the Indiana Dunes to a national park, unpacked the Grand Canyon’s political path to becoming a national park and explored “What We Don’t Want a President to Do.”

Additionally, Nagle received a Distinguished Lectureship award in 2002 from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board to teach environmental and property law at the Tsinghua University School of Law in Beijing. He received a second Fulbright Award in 2008 to serve on the law faculty at the University of Hong Kong.

Newton further described the late professor as an “exceptionally kind and thoughtful man, known for his love of family and the outdoors, and his deep concern for students.” 

“The affection and respect with which he was regarded by the entire law school community is evident in the spontaneous outpouring of grief from faculty, students, and staff upon hearing the news of his critical illness,” Newton said.

Nagle was recognized for his passion for the outdoors and photography, serving as a vice chair on the Endangered Species Committee of the American Bar Association’s environmental section.  

He also served as a member of the executive committee of the Section on Legislation of the American Association of Law Schools and as the Notre Dame faculty adviser for Christian Law Students, Environmental Law Students and Young Life.

Nagle is survived by his wife, Lisa, and daughters Laura and Julia. A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Monday, June 3, at Granger Community Church, 630 E. University Drive, Granger, with a reception to follow.

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