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Session Summary: National Security and Foreign Affairs under Trump

Submitted by Steve Vladeck (University of Texas School of Law)

Session Summary: Discussion Group—The Law of National Security and Foreign Affairs in the Trump Administration

In one of the final sessions of the conference on Saturday afternoon, Professor Andy Wright (Savannah) led a wide-ranging discussion group exploring national security and foreign affairs issues arising out of the Trump administration. By the end of the session, there appeared to be widespread agreement among both the discussants and the audience members that now is an especially fraught time in these fields—and an especially interesting time to be thinking and writing about the legal issues pervading them.

After Professor Wright’s introductory remarks, Professor Milena Sterio (Cleveland State) led off with a sweeping overview of the current Administration’s approach to treaties and other international agreements, with an especial focus on the Paris climate agreement—and the difficulties posed by President Trump’s approach to treaties as “deals” to be negotiated between commercial entities. Professor Melanie Reid (Lincoln Memorial–Duncan) followed suit with a deep dive into the complex relationship between the United States and China, and the national security and foreign affairs implications of the President’s approach on issues ranging from trade to cyberespionage and all things in between.

Professor Chris Ogolla (Savannah) followed by flagging some of the more significant intersections between immigration law and policy and national security (even without regard to the travel ban), before Professor Akram Faizer (Lincoln Memorial–Duncan) sought to put the first six-plus months of the Trump administration into broader context with a series of helpful comparisons to the law and policy of the Obama administration.

Professor Steve Vladeck (Texas) provided an overview of the current state of play at (and in litigating arising out of) Guantánamo, with discussion of how (and why) the Trump administration has not (yet) carried through on the President’s campaign pledge to reinvigorate detention and trial by military commission as a central feature of U.S. counterterrorism policy. And Professor Emily Berman (Houston) rounded out the presentations with a broader reflection on the implications for presidential power more generally of some of the approaches being pursued by the current Administration. Professor Wright then segued the discussion into back-and-forth with the audience, including a detailed series of questions on U.S. surveillance policies, potential reforms, and ongoing challenges arising therefrom.

Although attendees may well have left the session without too much of a reason to be especially optimistic about the current state of U.S. national security and foreign affairs law, the discussion suggested that there is no paucity of interesting topics and/or areas of research in which contemporary scholars can make an impact.

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