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Colleagues memorialize legacy of Christopher Stone in Southern California Law Review Symposium
USC Gould School of Law

Friday, April 22, 2022

Influential environmental law scholar remembered for eagerness to help students, colleagues

By Leslie Ridgeway

USC Gould Professor Robin Craig acknowledged the late Professor Christopher Stone’s interest in the ocean at the Southern California Law Review Symposium, which recognized Stone’s legacy as a leader in environmental law.

The legacy of the late Professor Christopher D. Stone, J. Thomas McCarthy Trustee Chair in Law, Emeritus, was the focus of the Southern California Law Review’s annual symposium, bringing together colleagues and leaders in environmental and property law to discuss Stone’s influence – as an innovator, a pioneer of interdisciplinary legal study and a respected and beloved teacher and mentor.

The April 1 symposium, which will be featured in the last issue of the Law Review’s 95th volume, featured presentations by USC Gould School of Law Professor Robin Craig as well as environmental law scholars including Professor Hope Babcock of Georgetown University Law Center; Professor Karen Bradshaw, fellow at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University; Professor Daniel Esty of Yale University, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy; Professor Richard Lazarus of Harvard Law School; and Professor David Takacs of UC Hastings School of Law. (Abstracts available here.)

Opening remarks were made by SCLR Editor-in-Chief Mindy Vo, Dean Andrew Guzman and Professor Scott Altman. Also present were Stone’s wife Anne and daughter Carey Stone.

Dean Guzman noted that Stone, who died in May 2021, established himself as a founder of modern environmental advocacy with the publication of the groundbreaking paper “Should Trees Have Standing?–Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects” (Southern California Law Review, 1972), one of the best known papers published in SCLR. He also lauded Stone as one of a cohort of Gould professors who championed interdisciplinary study, helping to distinguish Gould as one of the first law schools to build interdisciplinary thinking into the curriculum. He also was a standout educator.

“His commitment to his students was obvious, his success with his students was obvious, his students will testify he had high expectations for them but none of them felt they were unreasonable – he had high expectations because he knew and had faith in their abilities to perform,” Guzman said.

Altman highlighted Stone’s eagerness to help colleagues and mentor young professors, including himself, and Stone’s propensity to start conversations in the middle, just one of many examples of Stone’s unconventional thinking process.

“It was Chris’s game,” he said. “You had to figure out what he was thinking about and how it connected to the next three things he said and it was never easy. For Chris, everything was connected –he just needed to see deeply enough to know how.”

Stone remembered for inspiring environmental law and policy scholars

Esty pointed out that the symposium was taking place in the context of the war in Ukraine, as well as the 2021 UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow, calling it a “critical moment” in environmental law and policy and praising Stone for leading the way for him and other environmental scholars to continue the fight for climate change.

“There is virtually no professor of environmental law who doesn’t make reference to and teach and continue to be inspired by Chris Stone’s work and particularly the idea that emerged that we might look for rights for nature as a way to advance an environmental agenda that in the 1970s was just emerging but … 50 years later has not yet achieved the full measure of success required to ensure a sustainable future,” he said.

Professor Karen Bradshaw, a fellow at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, praised Stone for his encouragement of her scholarship.

Bradshaw spoke to Stone’s willingness to hear young scholars struggling to be taken seriously at pivotal moments in their careers, and how he helped her to create a framework for presenting the issues she was studying in a job talk paper.

“What he said to me on one phone call was … the world needs different kinds of stories about environmental law, and in order get those different kinds of stories, we need different kinds of people … a potential for voice not fully represented yet,” she said. “He saw something.”

Craig’s presentation, “Fish, Whales and a Blue Ethics for the Anthropocene,” acknowledged Stone’s interest in the ocean, including international fisheries and whaling and surrounding ethical issues that Stone explored in works such as Earth and Other Ethics: The Case for Moral Pluralism (1987). 

“I want to take my time here to pay tribute to other things Chris wrote,” she said. “Notably he had an affinity for fish, whales and the ocean in general. Chris had a lot to say about the ethics going forward, the blue ethics … for the Anthropocene with respect to our ocean food. As he noted in his book, ‘As long as the judges remain within the bounds of conventional international and U.S. principles, with no accounting for the whales’ interests, the ‘harvesting’ will continue.” And the harvesting has, despite some pretty stringent international law provisions.”  

Lazarus, introducing a presentation on SCOTUS Justice Stephen Breyer’s legacy for environmental law, remembered a call from the Washington Post in May, which was writing about Stone’s death and asking for a comment. Calling Stone “sort of a magic unicorn,” he noted that Stone was one of the few scholars teaching corporate law decades ago, placing him well ahead of his time.

“The most engaging, exciting legal scholars right now are corporate law scholars, [writing] about environmental law on a corporate law platform,” he said. “That’s Chris, and they’re all standing on his shoulders.”

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