Hot Topic Programs

Hot topic programs at the AALS Annual Meeting are breaking news sessions we add to the schedule to highlight the most pressing and important topics in law and society each year. These programs were proposed by law school faculty and selected by the Program Committee for the AALS 2018 Annual Meeting.

Brochure IA Brochure PTOC Workshop Live Program Schedule At-A-Glance

Don’t miss the following exciting programs in San Diego:


The Promise and Pitfalls of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017
Wednesday, January 3, 2018 from 1:30 – 3:15 pm


  • Robert Mikos, Vanderbilt University Law School



  • Douglas Berman, The Ohio State University, Michael E. Moritz College of Law
  • Anthony Cook, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Mitchell Crusto, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
  • Sean O’Connor, University of Washington School of Law
  • Seth Stoughton, University of South Carolina School of Law
  • Tamar Todd, Drug Policy Alliance


Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has proposed bold new legislation to scale back the nation’s “war on drugs” and curb racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (MJA) would repeal the federal prohibition on marijuana and give anyone previously convicted under that ban a clean start. The MJA would also push states to address disparities in the enforcement of their own marijuana bans, by withholding federal grant funds from states that continue to exhibit disproportionate arrest or incarceration rates for marijuana offenses. The panel will draw upon their diverse perspectives to discuss the promise and pitfalls of the MJA as a means to improve equal access to justice. What impact will the repeal of marijuana prohibition have on racial disparities in the criminal justice system? What lessons can be learned from the experiences of states that have already legalized marijuana under state law? Should the MJA also confront racial disparities outside of the criminal justice system? Do minorities have equal access to the economic opportunities now being created by state marijuana reforms? What can the state and federal governments do to ensure such access?


Federalism and Sanctuary Cities
Thursday, January 4, 2018 from 10:30 am – 12:15 pm

Moderator and Speaker:

  • Ilya Somin, The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University



  • Jennifer Chacon, University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
  • Josh Blackman, South Texas College of Law Houston
  • John Eastman, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law


The Trump administration’s efforts to target “sanctuary cities” have led to extensive ongoing legal challenges, which raise a variety of important constitutional and policy issues including the extent to which the executive branch can impose conditions on state and local government recipients of federal funds, what kinds of spending conditions count as “coercive” or insufficiently related to the purposes of the grant program they are attached to, and whether federal laws targeting sanctuary cities violate Tenth Amendment restrictions on “commandeering.” These cases also involve notable role reversals by both conservatives and progressives. The latter are relying heavily on federalism doctrines traditionally championed by the former. This panel will consider both the specific issues raised by the litigation over sanctuary cities, and the broader implications for constitutional federalism, separation of powers, and immigration law.


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

Moderator and Speaker:

  • Leo Beletsky, Northeastern University School of Law and Bouvé College of Health Sciences


  • Kristen Underhill, Columbia Law School
  • Jennifer D. Oliva, West Virginia University College of Law
  • Alex Kreit, Thomas Jefferson School of Law


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. This 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


  • Hannah Brenner, California Western School of Law



  • Mary M. Penrose, Texas A&M University School of Law
  • Verna Williams, University of Cincinnati College of Law
  • Cory Rayburn Young, University of Kansas School of Law
  • Nancy Chi Cantalupo, Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law
  • Ben Trachtenberg, University of Missouri School of Law


The Trump Administration recently revised the Title IX process addressing sexual violence on college campuses. These revisions, coupled with a Sixth Circuit decision finding due process protections lacking in a university’s Title IX hearing, underscore the importance of ensuring that both victims and accused receive access to justice following allegations of sexual violence. Against the backdrop of these and other current events, this panel considers strategies for rethinking the response from a legal access to justice perspective. As lawyers and legal academics, this topic is important to us, our students, institutions, and society as we strive to find balance between the rights of victims and accused. The voices on this panel offer diverse viewpoints regarding Title IX’s role in addressing sexual violence. Panelists will discuss necessary protections for those bringing claims of sexual violence to ensure fair resolution that causes limited harm to these individuals and their educational opportunities, and protections for those accused of perpetrating sexual violence, recognizing that consequences may extend far beyond the classroom. We challenge attendees to return to their campuses and respectfully engage one another to find meaningful solutions to an issue that, thus far, has failed to adequately guarantee access to justice for all.


Law Professors, the Legal Academy, and Controversies Over Free Speech on Campus
Friday, January 5, 2018 from 1:30 – 3:15 pm


  • Steve Sanders, Indiana University Maurer School of Law



  • Robert Post, Yale Law School
  • Lauren Robel, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
  • Kendall Thomas, Columbia Law School
  • James Weinstein, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law


Controversies over freedom of speech on American college and university campuses have reached an unprecedented tempo and level of academic and public attention. This program will explore the role and responsibilities that members of the legal academy have when we engage with these controversies as scholars, teachers, public intellectuals, and campus administrators. The panelists will consider such questions as: What unique perspectives or values do we in the legal academy bring to debates over campus speech? When campus protestors assert things like “liberalism is white supremacy” or “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” 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? 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

Moderator and Speaker:

  • Yxta Murray, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles



  • Gerald Torres, Cornell Law School
  • Lolita Buckner Inniss, Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law
  • Deborah Tuerkheimer, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
  • Alice Kaswan, University of San Francisco School of Law


Three recent event clusters demonstrate that the disaster narrative that shapes contemporary U.S. environmental responses is not working: the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord; and Michigan’s March, 2017 federal settlement, which fails to guarantee Flint’s water safety until 2020. In each case, authorities deployed the “disaster” (or “emergency”) trope, but it did not effectively illumine the dangers posed by environmental events. Disaster narratives (forms of legal reporting that warn of environmental hazards) seem irreplaceable as movers of necessary policy. Yet the narrative’s power can overwhelm legal actors by goading them to find catastrophic risks “beyond imagination.” The narrative also allows authorities to shrug off environmental issues as hysteric and ignore their own roles in compounding damage. Furthermore, vulnerable populations often find their suffering exacerbated by the narrative’s essentialism. Speakers will debate the disaster construction and its alternatives on this Hot Topic panel.