AALS News Spotlights National Security Law Section

Spotlight on Sections: National Security Law

INSCT Director William C. Banks (second from left) sits on the 2017 AALS Annual Meeting National Security Law panel.

(AALS News | Summer 2017) The Section on National Security Law provides for the exchange of information among, and the professional development of, law school faculty members interested in and involved with the laws governing national security.

What can you tell us about the membership of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on National Security Law and their work? 

Jennifer Daskal: There are a growing number of national security law scholars at schools across the country, and we have seen real growth in our membership over the years as a result. Our primary focus is on the programming that takes place at the Annual Meeting. In 2018, we have two events planned. The first includes a stellar group of panelists: Avril Haynes, the former Deputy National Security Advisor; Gen. John R. Allen, a retired four-star general who was Commander of the International Security Assistance Forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan; Oona Hathaway, a Yale Law School professor and former Special Counsel to the General Counsel at the Department of Defense; and Heidi Kitrosser, a renowned Minnesota Law School professor who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. That panel, which is titled “National Security in a Time of Trump,” will address the latest and greatest national security issues come January 2018.

Rachel VanLandingham: The second panel focuses on works-in-progress by junior scholars—those who have fewer than seven years in the academy. When we held [this program] last year, which was the first time, we chose articles from a call for papers that were not yet published, so we truly made it a works-in-progress to help scholars improve their papers. We had articles on cyber security, as well as articles regarding particular methods that the FBI uses and how they contravene, or seem to contravene, international law. Disparate topics, but exciting. We had a good turnout for the panel last year and great interaction. The format will be the same this year: we’ll select papers from a call, then assign a discussant to present the paper and highlight components of it to the general audience. Then the junior scholar gets a chance to respond. That’s a little different from a traditional works-in-progress session.

What are the important conversations happening right now in legal education regarding national security?

 JD: I think it’s an important and exciting time to be working in the field and to be engaging with other scholars and teaching students. This field existed before September 11, 2001, but only a small number of scholars engaged in the field. After the attack, the prominence of national security blossomed. I think we’re at a significant point right now where a lot of scholars, commentators, and students are focused on what’s happening with the current administration and looking at the wide array of national security threats and the ways in which claims of national security have been used to justify a host of disparate policy responses. You see national security scholars and former government officials—who often were scholars before they went into the government and continue to teach after they leave government—writing briefs and otherwise engaging in a whole range of issues from immigration to use of force to surveillance to foreign relations. The voices of people who have studied or are studying these issues are more important than ever.

RV: I have more of an anecdotal, personal observation about being at a law school that is not on the East Coast, and not at the epicenter of politics as Washington, D.C. is. I am in Los Angeles at a law school that is known more for entertainment law. When I asked to teach this course when I got here three years ago, it had not been taught in years, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest and by the number of students in my classes.

Even more importantly, I love the fact that so many students become interested in federal government service after taking this class. They had no idea what was out there because they grew up and went to school in Los Angeles and are focused on the things that don’t have anything to do with federal service. I believe there’s a nexus between exposure to national security law and the many subjects it covers and federal service. I’ve had a few students from my national security law course who have applied to become judge advocates in the military. One former student is interning for the Department of Homeland Security. I have another student interested in the CIA, and they said they’d never considered it before taking National Security Law. I would hazard a guess that’s not unique to Southwestern Law. This kind of course is good exposure for different kinds of service and employment that individuals wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

JD: I think one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of national security law is that it’s so broad. People can enter the field with an array of different expertise and interests. You could have a national security law class focused on any one of a number of topics—such as cyber security, energy policy, environmental policy, immigration law, international law, or, surveillance policy. Or a class that tries to do it all. That means the faculty members who are engaged in this section come at it with all kinds of perspectives and expertise. It also means that there’s a lot of room for innovation in teaching. And there here are many opportunities for students to get engaged in the issues from a variety of perspectives as well.

Do you collaborate often, either as a section with other sections or personally within your scholarship, with scholars in other fields? 

JD: There are very few faculty members who are purely national security law scholars. Most national security faculty come at it with some other substantive expertise. For me, it’s criminal law, constitutional law, and national security law. For others, it’s international law and national security law. I think most of us are actively engaged in conversations in other substantive areas of the law in addition to the conversations that are more exclusively focused on national security.

How do you choose, with so many angles and points of entry, what to cover or not cover in national security law survey courses?

RV: For a lot of us, we teach what we’re comfortable with because we’re coming in with pre-existing work expertise in certain areas, as well as having expertise gleaned from one’s complementary teaching load. This is purely anecdotal, but I know quite a few folks who teach national security law and have professional government or human rights experience, so they focus on those areas. Another thing that’s neat about teaching this course: there are more casebooks now than there ever have been, and most of them are quite comprehensive. You can pick the subjects for that particular semester that are the most topical given current events. For a while, drone warfare and the use of drones was a topic of huge interest, so professors would tie in this interest when teaching relevant legal frameworks in national security law. I think there are many different ways to go about it, and it would be beneficial to folks teaching and writing to discuss what they teach and develop best practices. I think our section is uniquely poised to do that kind of work.

JD: Because the topic is so broad, I think a lot of teachers end up ultimately coming up with their own materials instead of using a casebook …

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