UW School of Law Remembers William H. Rodgers, Jr.

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Professor Emeritus William H. Rodgers, Jr. Professor “Bill” Rodgers began teaching at the University of Washington School of Law in 1967, was a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School from 1972–79 and returned to the UW in 1979 where he served as the Bloedel Professor of Law and then the Stimson Bullitt Professor of Environment Law and taught until he retired in 2018.

Education and Early Career

After receiving his B.A. from Harvard University in 1961, Rodgers attended Columbia Law School and then clerked for the Honorable Frederick van Pelt Bryan in the Southern District of New York. He then joined the faculty at the University of Washington School of Law immediately after his clerkship.

Teacher, Mentor, Advocate

Rodgers taught environmental law before the term was coined. Congress called upon Rodgers to testify on every bedrock environmental statute enacted in the 1970s, even using one of his law review articles as a precursor for the Clean Water Act.

While teaching full time, Rodgers litigated the “Smelter Cases” of the 1970s and 1980s, including the ASARCO copper smelter in Tacoma, Washington, designated one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s first Superfund sites in 1982.  Rodgers always involved his students in his litigation efforts, including filing a petition asking the U.S. government to use a long-forgotten clause in the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement that would have required Exxon to pay additional damages to restore natural resources harmed by the oil spill in 1989.

In the 1970’s Rodgers represented the Puyallup Tribe all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a case that helped ensure legal recognition of Native American treaty fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest. He has argued cases on environmental, energy and Indian law matters in the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts and state courts. He filed countless petitions with the government, including one of the first legal petitions to ban DDT, and with the Seattle Chief of Police seeking stricter gun control.

Commitment to Science and Interdisciplinary Study

Due to his deep commitment to science and interdisciplinary study, coupled with his intellectual breadth and depth of knowledge, Rodgers served on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a place where few lawyers tread. He was appointed to the NAS National Research Council and Ocean Studies Board’s Committee on Defining Best Available Science for Fisheries Management in 2003-2004 and the NAS Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology from 1984-1990.

Scholarly Work

A prolific writer, Rodgers is the most cited legal scholar on topics of environmental law, influencing not only academic colleagues, but judges, activists, students and practitioners as well. His works include the four-volume Treatise on Environmental Law, the Hornbook on Environmental Law, Environmental Law in Indian Country, A Constitutional Law of the Environment, The Si’Lailo Way: Indians, Salmon and Law on the Columbia River, Corporate Country and scores of law review articles on myriad topics.

Celebration of the Life of Professor Bill Rodgers

The family invites the UW Law Community, alumni and friends in the environmental and tribal communities to attend the celebration of Bill’s life. All are welcome. The celebration will take place on Sunday, May 7, 2023 from 1:00 – 4:00 pm at Ivar’s Salmon House located at 401 NE Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98105.

University of Washington Colleagues Tributes

“Bill was a giant in the field – everywhere I went as a young scholar, the comments were always the same when folks learned I was at the University of Washington: give my regards to Bill, they all said, followed by a story of how gracious and warm he was despite all that he accomplished. That was my experience with Bill too. Plus, I always carried a notebook and pen when talking to him because I knew that most of what he said would make sense in six months’ time when I managed to catch up to his thinking. He was a true fighter for and lover of the natural world. May we all honor his legacy in the work we do. “

—Sanne Knudsen, UW Professor of Environmental Law

“Bill was someone I talked to daily for more than 20 years. He was a true friend and we valued each other immensely as colleagues. I was so fortunate to begin my UW Law career on the fifth floor of Condon with Bill Rodgers among the faculty I would be supporting. Serendipitous that we found each other. He never learned how to type but was one of the most prolific (and excellent) writers I’ve known. Our respective skill sets enhanced the other’s. In addition to his fervor for scholarship, I admire his appreciation for his law students and what smart, creative lawyers they could become. As his assistant, I answered dozens of inquiries annually from former students wanting to get in touch with him. He was always their biggest fan and thrilled to learn about the difference they were making in the world.”

—Cindy Fester, Editor, Research Publications at UW School of Law

“Bill Rodgers was not only a pioneer and giant in the field of environmental law but he was a warm and gentle soul and a wonderful teacher, scholar and colleague. I will miss him very much but count my life so much richer for having known Bill.”

—Jeff Riedinger, UW Vice Provost for Global Affairs

“Bill had a lifetime dedication to preserving our environment. He was the bridge between his friend and colleague Ralph Johnson’s establishment of Native American law as a mainstay at the UW School of Law and the current program anchored in the Native American Law Center and Tribal Court Clinic. On a personal note, he was always kind to me and supported my professional development in countless ways. I’ll never forget the quarter when Greg Hicks suddenly became acting Dean, and we were in danger of not having a public land law course that term. I volunteered to teach it and Bill, of course, offered to co-teach with me. When Greg heard this news, he jumped in and the three of us taught the course. It was a fabulous learning experience for me and for the students – as evidenced by their evaluations. It was simply fun and amazing to be able to listen to Bill provide his brilliant insight into the material we discussed – supplemented by hilarious anecdotes pulled from his vast experience. I’ll never forget it. I feel so fortunate to have known Bill. He lives on in all of us – and in the body of law he founded.”

—Robert T. Anderson, Solicitor, U.S. Department of Interior