Yale Bulletin
and Calendar


Renowned international law scholar Myres S. McDougal dies

Myres Smith McDougal, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and longtime resident of New Haven, died on May 7, after a long illness. He was 92 years old.

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.

Professor McDougal called his jurisprudence -- which is generally referred to simply 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 -- known as "Mac" to his students and colleagues -- was a respected and popular teacher at the Law School for five decades, and after that, at the New York Law School. He nurtured generations of statesmen, judges, academics and practicing lawyers.

President Bill Clinton '73 J.D., who was among Professor McDougal's former students, expressed sadness on learning of the scholar's death. In a letter to the McDougal family and friends, Clinton wrote: "Mac was a central part of the Yale Law School community. His conception of the ultimate goal of law as the achievement of human dignity, and his insistence that each legal application be appraised in terms of its contribution to that dignity, inspired many of us to dedicate our lives to public service and will continue to guide our efforts."

Yale trustee José A. Cabranes '65 J.D., judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit and another of Professor McDougal's former pupils, noted: "Mac's scholarship and his advocacy has touched most of the great foreign policy debates of our time: United States participation in the new, post-war order; the principles of law governing the exercise of coercive authority by great powers in that new order; the international protection of human rights (a subject that Mac helped to place on the map, and which he introduced to law school curricula); the use of executive agreements in the conduct of our foreign affairs; the application of international law by United States tribunals; the law of the sea; and the law of outer space (an interest of his that some of us in 1962 regarded, quite incorrectly, as an eccentric interest of Mac's). ... Myres McDougal was, without a doubt, the greatest international lawyer of his time."

Retired Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White '46 LL.B. also sent along the following message: "Professor McDougal was very likely my favorite professor at Yale. We had a fine relationship down through the years, and I loved him dearly."

Professor McDougal was born in 1906 in Burton, Miss. He received 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 the Yale Law School.

After teaching briefly at the University of Illinois, he returned to Yale in 1934, working primarily in the area of property law. During World War II, 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. 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 in the Yale Law Journal, he and Lasswell published their first joint endeavor, "Legal Education and Public Policy," a fundamental and path-breaking work in its field.

Among other positions, Mr. McDougal served as president of the American Society of International Law and was president of the Association of American Law Schools.

Professor McDougal is survived by his wife, the former Frances Lee, and a son, John Lee McDougal, also of New Haven.

Search YBC back issues: