Spotlight on Sections: Section on International Law

Spotlight on Sections: Section on International Law


By Melinda Price

AALS Sections provide a forum for law school faculty and staff to connect on issues of shared interest. There are currently 100 AALS sections, each focused on a different academic discipline, affinity group, or administrative area. For a full list of AALS sections and how to join, please visit
For this edition of “Spotlight on Sections,” AALS spoke with the leadership of the Section on International Law about their programming at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting and other section activities.

Matthew Charity, Western New England University School of Law (Executive Committee, Chair 2015-16) - Photo courtesy of Western New England University School of Law

Matthew Charity, Western New England University School of Law (Executive Committee, Chair 2015-16)

Shalanda Baker, University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law (Chair)- Photo courtesy of University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law

Shalanda Baker, University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law (Chair)

Professor Charity, the section hosted a field trip to the United Nations at the 2016 Annual Meeting. What can you tell me about the event?
Matthew H. Charity: The event was organized by Claudio Grossman, Dean of American University, Washington College of Law, and Mark Wojcik, John Marshall Law School, as event co-chairs, with some input from me as section chair. It was a great example of the initiative of executive committee members working through the section toward an event that might appeal to the larger legal academy.
Dean Grossman served as a panelist and reached out to most of his copanelists. Professor Wojcik moved the discussion along as moderator. The panelists were U.N. insiders: Richard Bennet, Representative and Head of UN Office, Amnesty International; Ben Majekodumni, Senior Officer at the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations; Katarina Mansson, Capacity Building & Harmonization Section Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, United Nations; and Joanna Weschler, Deputy Executive Director & Director of Research, Security Council Report. The panel dealt with Security Council and General Assembly legal questions, and there was plenty of time to pose questions and engage with the panelists and each other.
We also heard from the Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, Cristián Barros, over lunch. He discussed his impressions after Chile completed its two years of service on the Security Council. He was also kind enough to engage the participants in discussion following lunch.
The section also co-sponsored sessions with the Section on European Law, the Section on Islamic Law, the Section on International Human Rights and the Section on International Security Law. How did the partnerships with the other sections come about?
MC: We sometimes forget that law has been described as a seamless web–while our own section’s session was going to focus on states of emergency and international law, the Section on European Law was looking at the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Section on Islamic Law was looking at the place of ISIS and Boko Haram in a “post-Westphalian” world. As we put together proposals for the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting, we contacted a few other sections to see if there was any interest in cross-promotion.
There’s great value in recognizing programs that would be of interest to a number of the section members, and cross-listing to draw attention to other offerings.
Is the section engaged with professors, lawyers, and scholars from outside the United States? How do these perspectives help the understanding of international law for U.S. law teachers?
MC: I think it’s varied over the years, but I’ve most appreciated conversations that are not focused around a singular national perspective, such as our field trip to the United Nations this year. One of the things that helps the section is the variety of perspectives. Many of the section’s leadership are either from or have lived in other countries. Perhaps because of this, there’s some room to approach the law differently, though I do think there has been a push to broaden perspectives in recent years. Our co-sponsoring programs with other sections with varied international and transnational perspectives also allows us to approach subjects of international interest from a different angle.
When I chaired the Section on Africa, our blind call for papers in a joint program with the Section on Law and South Asian Studies allowed us to get to know and invite a scholar from Ethiopia that we would otherwise not have known, expanding the pool of panelists we might consider.
When planning a panel on states of emergency this past year, having a comparative approach from Kim Lane Scheppele, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a cosmopolitan approach from Dean Grossman was really helpful in having a discussion that didn’t rely on a conflict of rights versus security. It opened up the discussion to delegation of power during national disasters and recognized the governmental responsibility to take its authority to provide aid.
As for integrating other perspectives, it’s critical for our students to hear challenges to what might otherwise be baseline perspectives for those living in the United States, whether it’s prioritizing economic and social rights or citing legal definitions more commonly used in civil law countries.
Professor Charity and Professor Baker, what was your first experience with AALS sections and how did you become involved in leadership?
MC: When I went to the AALS Annual Meeting in the past I went to the programs in which I had an interest. I joined a number of those sections, and saw colleagues from those sections at conferences over the course of the year or two following where we had a chance to grab a cup of coffee. I stayed after section sessions for the meetings and offered to help where I could. I gained some confidence with the extraordinarily supportive community of some sections that immediately asked me to serve on executive committees, such as the Section on Africa, and then I asked about serving on the executive committee of the International Law section, which had a bit more of a queue.
Shalanda Baker: As a William H. Hastie fellow in Wisconsin from 2010-2012, I was able to attend the AALS Annual Meeting and many other conferences. A senior person at another institution encouraged me to participate in the Section on International Law and invited me to replace her on a panel. The experience left me exhilarated and wanting to participate. As they say, the rest is history.
Professor Baker, do you have advice for faculty who would like to get more involved with the section and connect with international law professors at other law schools?
SB: My best advice for faculty would be to participate in a call for papers. This is a great way to highlight your own scholarship and receive feedback. Going on the field trips is another way to interact with colleagues in the section. We also have a very active listserv and our membership cross-pollinates with the American Society of International Law and other international law organizations.
What additional plans are underway for the section this year?
SB: This year we’re putting together an exciting panel on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). We may have more than enough people to fill our panel, and we are hoping to get a diverse mix of speakers from practice and the academy since so many people across various practice areas are interested to see how the TPP unfolds. To that end our section is very interested in looking at the intersection between private international law and climate change impacts, environmental issues, labor issues, and human rights issues. We hope that this will be a very robust conversation.
We are also talking about experimenting with more non-conventional types of presentation formats. We have a one hour and forty-five minute slot, and we really want to maximize opportunities for audience participation.
Anything else you would like to add?
SB: I want to emphasize the opportunities for engagement by newer faculty. As a junior faculty member on the tenuretrack, it can seem daunting to engage in leadership in AALS, but, if people show up to meetings and sessions there are so many opportunities to be involved.
Our section in particular is quite welcoming to new members. I joined the executive committee when I had just entered the academy, so I speak from experience. I would encourage new faculty to attend our business meetings and get involved, as fresh voices are always welcomed in the mix. Hopefully we can also incorporate some of those new voices in our upcoming panel concerning the TPP.
AALS Section on International Law Chair Shalanda Baker at an International  Environmental Law “crosscutting program” at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting

AALS Section on International Law Chair Shalanda Baker at an International Environmental Law “crosscutting program” at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting

Read this month’s other Spotlight on Sections interview with the leadership of the Section on Constitutional Law.