In memoriam: John Copeland Nagle, John N. Matthews Professor of Law

Author: Shannon Roddel

John Copeland Nagle

John Copeland Nagle, the John N. Matthews Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, died Saturday (May 18) following surgery and a brief illness. He is survived by his wife, Lisa, and daughters Laura and Julia. He was 58.


Nagle was an expert on the legislative and regulatory process, environmental and property law, China and the law, and the intersection of religion and the law. He joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1998 and served as the Law School’s inaugural associate dean for faculty research.


“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. “We will all miss him dearly.”


In 2002, Nagle received a Distinguished Lectureship award 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 another Fulbright Award to serve on the law faculty at the University of Hong Kong in 2008.


Prior to his time at Notre Dame, Nagle taught at the Seton Hall University School of Law. He also worked in the United States Department of Justice, first as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, and later as a trial attorney conducting environmental litigation. Nagle served as a law clerk to Judge Deanell Reece Tacha of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and he was a scientific assistant in the Energy and Environmental Systems Division of Argonne National Laboratory. He is a graduate of Indiana University and the University of Michigan Law School. 


Nagle 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. 


Nagle’s articles in popular publications criticized 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.”


Through photography, Nagle immortalized his love of the outdoors, and never missed an opportunity to share that passion with his students. One of the regular raffle items up for bid in the Law School’s annual Father Mike Variety Show was a canoe trip with Nagle on the St. Joseph River. He summarized his perspective regarding his scholarship and his faith when he wrote in 2003 that “we should marvel at the beauty and utility of the natural world around us. But we dare not place our faith in creation … We place our faith in the Creator.”


Nagle served as a member of the executive committee of the Section on Legislation of the American Association of Law Schools and as a vice chair on the Endangered Species Committee of the American Bar Association’s environmental section. He served as an elder in the Presbyterian church and was a member of New City Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He served as the faculty adviser for the Christian Law Students, the Environmental Law Students and Young Life. 

A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. June 3 (Monday) at Granger Community Church, 630 E. University Drive, Granger, Indiana. A reception to follow at 5 p.m. in the Dahnke Ballroom in the Duncan Student Center on Notre Dame's campus.