By Tommi Mandell, Staff Writer
On March 19 and 20, the Federalist Society hosted the 2021 National Student Symposium. The Federalist Society’s main purpose is “to sponsor fair, serious, and open debate about the need to enhance individual freedom and the role of the courts in saying what the law is rather than what they wish it to be.” The Vermont Law School (VLS) Federalist Society Chapter’s Faculty Advisor, Richard Sala, Director of the Academic Success Program and Assistant Professor of Law, has been to Federalist Society events every year since 2010 and said “it’s such a great time.”
Sala would “absolutely encourage students to participate,” with one reason being because “you never know who you might meet.” At these events, Sala has met Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, spoke with Jeff Sessions, Former U.S. Attorney General, and listened to Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Kavanaugh. VLS students even had Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s book, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, signed by Gorsuch at one of these previous events.
The most important reason Sala would encourage students to attend these events is because the “debates are so robust… it’s so nice to be in an environment where people are challenging each other… we’re challenging each other’s deeply held beliefs in a civil way… There’s just so much to gain from hearing the other side and realizing there are areas of agreement and, even though there are areas of deep disagreement, we can do it in a cordial way, in a collegial way.”
The Federalist Society Chapter at The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School (Penn Law) sponsored the virtual event. International law and U.S. Foreign Policy were the main topics. The event also focused on U.S. constitutional interpretation, international governance, trade, and human rights. The event consisted of four panels and a debate, featuring many legal professionals including judges and law professors. The panels and the debate were moderated by United States federal court judges.
Panel I: The Role of International Law in U.S. Constitutional Interpretation focused on the U.S. Constitution, Foreign Policy, International Law and Trade, and International & National Security Law. Honorable Elizabeth Branch, United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, moderated the first panel. Branch, when opening the panel, stated that in this panel “we will explore the status of customary international law in U.S. courts when there is congressional legislation or a U.S. treaty and when there is not.”
Panel II: Trade and Sovereignty focused on Foreign Policy, International Law and Trade, and Law & Economics. Honorable Stephen A. Vaden, United States Court of International Trade, moderated the second panel. Vaden opened the forum with a brief background on trade and its importance, stating, “For years there was consensus on trade policy particularly in the United States… In recent times that consensus has begun to break down.”
Vaden highlighted two statutes: § 301 of the 1974 Trade Act and § 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. Vaden also stated that although Art. I. § 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, that Congress has broadly delegated this power to the Executive Branch.
Panel III: Unilateral Presidential War Powers covered the U.S. Constitution, Foreign Policy, International Law and Trade, Separation of Powers, and International and National Security Law. Honorable Neomi Rao, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, moderated this panel.
Panel IV: How Beneficial is International Human Rights Law? covered Civil Rights, International Law and Trade, Law and Economics, and International and National Security Law. Honorable Stephanos Bibas, United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit moderated this panel.
A debate, Debate: Is More Global Governance Necessary?, between Oona A. Hathaway, Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law and Counselor to the Dean, at Yale Law School, and Jonathan R. Macey, Sam Harris Professor of Corporate Law, Corporate Finance, and Securities Law, at Yale Law School, followed the panels. The topics included Foreign Policy, International Law and Trade, and International and National Security Law. Honorable James C. Ho, United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, moderated the debate.
Sala, when talking of the in-person events before COVID-19 as compared to the virtual events, stated that the biggest change is that “usually you have this great debate between these scholars, it’s very interesting, it’s far reaching and that the conversation normally continues out in the hallway.” He stated the biggest change was that “the conversation doesn’t continue out in the hallway.”
If students want to volunteer at future (in-person) national events, which have been held in Washington D.C., the Federalist Society waives the fee. Sala stated that the national organization provides scholarships to attend these events. When the student symposium was held at the UVA campus, Sala stated VLS had one of the largest student cohorts in attendance.
Students interested in joining the VLS Federalist Society Chapter can do so by going to the chapter’s events and sign up, reaching out to the student leadership of the chapter, or joining on the Federalist Society’s website.