Hot topic programs at the AALS Annual Meeting highlight important and timely topics on some of society and law’s most pressing issues. These programs were selected by the Program Committee for the AALS 2018 Annual Meeting from proposals submitted by law school faculty.
2017 Annual Meeting Hot Topic Program “President Trump and Freedom of the Press.”
The Promise and Pitfalls of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017
Wednesday, January 3, 2018 from 1:30 – 3:15 pm
In August, 2017, Senator Cory Booker proposed The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (MJA), designed to scale back the war on marijuana and curb racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana prohibitions. The MJA would repeal the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge prior convictions under that prohibition, and release or resentence inmates still serving time in federal prison for violations of the federal ban. It would also push states to eliminate racial disparities in the enforcement of state marijuana prohibitions.
This panel will assess the promise and pitfalls of the MJA as a means to improve equal access to justice, discuss lessons learned from states that have already repealed their marijuana prohibitions, and consider the novel features of the MJA and the lessons they hold for the states. The panel will also assess the broader significance of the MJA. While the statute addresses disparities in criminal justice systems, it does not address the disparities that have arisen under the civil regulations states have adopted to replace prohibitions. The MJA provides no federal special oversight of the burgeoning state-licensed marijuana industry, leaving it to the discretion of the states and subject only to more generally applicable federal laws. Do minorities have equal access to the economic opportunities now being created by state marijuana reforms? How have states attempted to ensure such access? Have those efforts succeeded? Should the federal government do more to ensure that the racial disparities that have pervaded enforcement of state marijuana prohibitions are not re-created in the enforcement of state marijuana regulations?
Federalism and Sanctuary Cities
Thursday, January 4, 2018 from 10:30 am – 12:15 pm
The Trump administration has adopted a series of controversial policies targeting “sanctuary cities.” Litigation in both cases is ongoing. Meanwhile, the state of California has passed a “sanctuary state” law restricting cooperation with federal immigration policy. Legal challenges to the Trump administration’s anti-sanctuary city policies raise important constitutional federalism issues. Another crucial legal issue is the appropriateness of the nationwide injunctions issued by district courts in both rulings decided so far.
This panel will consider broader questions about the relationship between the federal, state, and local governments: whether and when it is desirable for states and localities to be able to impede or frustrate federal policies, and whether the possibility of a cross-ideological consensus on the need for constitutional limits to federal power. Strikingly, the sanctuary cities litigation has featured mostly progressive jurisdictions making federalism claims traditionally associated with conservatives, and conservatives adopting a more nationalist stance previously associated with the left. It is important to consider whether this will lead to any broader reorientation of partisan and ideological attitudes towards federalism. Yet another notable issue is whether immigration policy should have a different status from other federal policies intended to coerce or incentivize states and localities to do the federal government’s bidding.
Using the Law and Its Enforcement to Address the Overdose Crisis: Emerging Trends and Implications
Thursday, January 4, 2018 from 1:30 – 3:15 pm
With over 100 victims daily and untold human and economic costs, the overdose crisis is one of the most formidable societal challenges of our time. In contrast to prior drug-related crises, this opioid “epidemic” has elicited a response many have characterized by health-oriented, rather than punitive approaches. It was not until recently that additional attention has been leveled against increasing reliance on criminal law, law enforcement, and coercive tools now being mounted to combat this public health challenge.
The panel brings together a group of diverse scholars, all of whom research criminal and other legal strategies to address health challenges. Drawing on brand new empirical analyses, political developments and recent judicial decisions, the panel will provide interdisciplinary insights and critiques of emerging “hot” trends in legal landscapes, prosecutorial strategies, surveillance programs, and policing interventions increasingly deployed to tackle the overdose crisis. Issues covered will include data privacy in view of expanding government surveillance, reliance on harsh sentencing, empirical analysis of legal immunity statutes, and the use of discretion in innovative law enforcement programs. A discussion of implications for better calibrated legal tools and policing strategies in addressing the crisis will conclude the panel.
Rethinking Campus Response to Sexual Violence: Betsy DeVos, Title IX, and the Continuing Search for Access to Justice
Friday, January 5, 2018 from 8:30 -10:15 am
The Trump Administration recently changed Title IX’s process for addressing sexual violence on college campuses. These changes, coupled with a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, John Doe v. University of Cincinnati, underscore the important considerations facing us as we seek to ensure that both victims and accused receive access to justice following allegations of sexual violence. As academics, we are aware that sexual violence is prevalent on college campuses and have a vested interested in ensuring that all our students are guaranteed access to education in a safe environment. As lawyers, we have a duty to ensure that both the victims of sexual violence and those accused of sexual violence have equal, and meaningful, access to justice.
This panel will discuss the necessary protections for those bringing claims of sexual violence to ensure that these claims are considered and resolved in the least damaging way to them and their educational opportunities, the necessary protections for those accused of committing acts of sexual violence that often carry consequences far beyond the classroom and college campus, and relevant prevention strategies to try and mitigate the likelihood of such cases being brought in the first place.
Law Professors, the Legal Academy, and Controversies Over Free Speech on Campus
Friday, January 5, 2018 from 1:30 – 3:15 pm
Law professors, while not the only participants in the debates over campus speech, are often among the most well-informed, passionate, and frequently consulted academic experts on this topic. They often enjoy ready access to journalists, blogs, and invited forums. Moreover, the legal academy uniquely embraces experts on the Constitution, social and intellectual history, inequality, critical theory, academic freedom, and the relationship between law and society. And unlike many other quarters of the academy, law schools also are homes to scholars who approach these matters from a wide range of ideological perspectives.
This program will explore the role and responsibilities that members of the legal academy have when they engage with these controversies as scholars, teachers, public intellectuals, and campus administrators. What unique perspectives or values do we in the legal academy bring to debates over campus speech? Do law professors have a special obligation to explain and defend—to students, the public, and many of our non-law colleagues—the values of free speech and, on public campuses, the law of the First Amendment? If so, how well have we been doing? Have the perspectives of legal scholars, especially defenders of free speech, been inappropriately privileged in these debates? Have we been open to powerful and reasoned arguments—by our colleagues both within and outside of law schools—that the value of free speech often is associated with various forms of privilege and hierarchy, and is in tension with values of diversity and equality?
The Disaster Narrative and the State
Saturday, January 6, 2018 from 10:30 am – 12:15 pm
Disaster narratives, forms of legal reporting that warn of the present and future threats that climate change and environmental injustice pose to human health and security, seem irreplaceable as movers of necessary environmental policy. Yet they may suffer from their own success. Three recent events and event clusters demonstrate that the disaster narrative that has shaped much of 20th and 21st century U.S. environmental response is not working: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which recently tore through South America, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean; Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord; and the state of Michigan’s federal settlement that fails to guarantee Flint’s water safety until 2020. In each of these cases, the legal and social trope of “disaster” (or “emergency”) was employed by authorities and critics alike, but it did not effectively protect against or even illumine the manifold dangers posed by environmental events.
This panel will address the complexities of when, if, and how to deploy the disaster narrative in legal engagement that deals with environmental threats such as those suffered by intersectional communities. It will also consider alternatives to that narrative.