November 4, 2023

In Memoriam: Richard B. Stewart

With great sadness, we write to share the news that Dick Stewart, University Professor and John Edward Sexton Professor of Law, died yesterday, November 3, 2023. It is no exaggeration to say that his death marks the passing of a giant in the law whose transformational influence on his field, and on our Law School, will be felt for many years to come.

His life was marked by superlatives. A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Richard Burleson Stewart received a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in History, the Arts, and Letters from Yale University. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and was awarded a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with first class honors from Oxford before earning his law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Dick began his legal career as a law clerk to Justice Potter Stewart at the Supreme Court of the United States and worked for several years in private practice in Washington, D.C. He then joined the Harvard faculty and remained there for eighteen years. He quickly built a reputation as an extraordinary scholar with the publication in the Harvard Law Review of his now classic article, “The Reformation of American Administrative Law,” which marked a turning point in administrative law scholarship. He served as the Byrne Professor of Administrative Law at Harvard Law School and as a member of the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government.

Dick’s influence extended beyond the pages of scholarly journals. He was a longtime leader of the Environmental Defense Fund, serving as its chairman from 1980-1983, on its board of trustees, and on its advisory board. From 1989 to 1991, he served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of what was then known as the Land and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. He successfully worked to rename it the Environment and Natural Resources Division to reflect more accurately its mission. While in office, he led the Department’s investigation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the development of the U.S. position in preparation for the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Assistant Attorney General he was also instrumental in crafting major environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. 

After leaving government, Dick began a remarkable new phase of his life when he moved to NYU. Recognized as a preeminent scholar in environmental law and administrative law, Dick’s influence here was profound. He taught a broad range of courses at the Law School, reflecting the varied interests of a creative and insightful scholar, including Torts; the Administrative and Regulatory State; Food Law and Policy; and the Environmental Law Seminar. He served as faculty director of the Hauser Global Law School Program and pioneered courses on law and global governance, including Global Environmental Law, Science, and Governance. He co-directed the Global Administrative Law Project with Professor Benedict Kingsbury, a major research initiative that identified a shift toward enhanced public participation in administrative decision-making processes and accountability in global regulatory institutions. He continued to be prolific, publishing dozens of scholarly works and writing a leading casebook on administrative law, initially co-authored with Justice Stephen G. Breyer and now in its ninth edition.

Under his leadership, the Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy, and Land Use Law at NYU Law became a hub for cutting-edge research, conferences, and publications related to environmental and land use law. The Center’s activities, which often focus on international and comparative environmental law issues, have greatly contributed to the development of climate law, policy, and finance.

Dick was a beloved figure within the legal community, known for his generosity, loyalty, and confident leadership. We will miss him tremendously.