Obituary for Myres Smith McDougal, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law

Myres Smith McDougal, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School and longtime resident of New Haven, died on Thursday, May 7, after a long illness. A renowned authority on international law, Professor McDougal founded, along with political scientist Harold D. Lasswell, the New Haven School of Jurisprudence, a policy-science approach to the study of law that conceives of law not as a body of rules, but as a process of decision. Among his other positions, he served as president of the American Society of International Law in 1958, and was president of the Association of American Law Schools in 1966.

Professor McDougal was born in 1906 in Burton, Miss. He received a B.A., M.A. and LL.B. degrees from the University of Mississippi and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he received a B.C.L. in 1930. At Oxford, he was a student of the legal historian Sir William Holdsworth, who had a profound influence on his later work. Although invited to teach at Oxford, Mr. McDougal returned to the United States to earn his doctorate in 1931 from Yale Law School.

After a brief teaching stint at the University of Illinois, he returned to Yale in 1934. Working in the area of property law, he was the first scholar to reconceive this traditional body of law in terms of comprehensive resource planning.

During the Second World War, Professor McDougal took a leave from Yale to serve his country, first as assistant general counsel of the Lend-Lease Administration – 1942; then as general counsel of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations – 1943.

Professor McDougal turned his attention after the war to international law, and it was in this area that he made his best known contributions. He produced, in collaboration with his students, six major treatises on international issues, including the law of the sea, the law of outer space, the law of war and the law of human rights. In 1943, he and Lasswell published their first joint endeavor, “Legal Education and Public Policy,” a fundamental and path-breaking work in its field.

Professor McDougal called his jurisprudence – which is generally referred to as “the New Haven School”– “configurative” and “policy-oriented.” In his view, the challenge was to develop and apply an approach to the study and practice of law so that law could contribute to the achievement of a public order respectful of human dignity.

Aside from his prominence as a legal scholar, Professor McDougal was a respected and beloved teacher at Yale Law School for five decades, and after that, at the New York Law School. He nurtured generations of statesmen, judges, academics and practicing lawyers.

He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, the former Frances Lee, and a son, John Lee McDougal, also of New Haven

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325