New Concerns for a New Administration


A symposium co-sponsored by 15 Fordham Law School student groups brought together nine Fordham professors on January 25 to discuss the legal issues already taking shape in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Two panels, each moderated by Clare Huntington, discussed the likely development of such issues as climate change, immigration, international law, tax law, and civil rights under President Trump.

The first panel included presentations by Thomas Lee on international relations, Nicholas Johnson on climate change, Gemma Solimene and Jennifer Gordon on immigration, and Robin Lenhardt on civil rights.

Lee described several of the international policy issues that Trump will face during his tenure. Lee urged the new administration’s forbearance regarding the possible recognition of Russian territorial gains in the Crimea, and Israeli territory seized in the aftermath of 1967’s Six Day War. Recognition of either would upset 70 years of international legal precedent, he said, by acknowledging territory seized by force as legitimate.

Johnson said that he was less than immediately concerned about the Trump administration’s threat to several issues concerning climate change. He looked specifically to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which took years to implement and will require a lengthy process to undo.

Solimene called into question Trump’s ability to move forward on several of the immigration initiatives outlined in his January 25 executive orders, which call for a border wall, an increase in border patrol staff, and an increase in the number of domestic detention centers. “He made these announcements, but there’s going to be these legal challenges as to what is his authority to actually divert funds that have already been appropriated for other things,” she said.

The president has far greater latitude to act with regards to foreign individuals entering the United States, a subject Gordon addressed through a discussion of the president’s proposed executive order banning all temporary and permanent visas from countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. “On the ordinary immigration front, he is exercising a power that he unquestionably has as president,” she said. “But he has gone far beyond any contemporary president in the scope of the order.”

After citing her work on the Obama administration transition team in 2009, Lenhardt said that Trump’s cabinet nominations provided cause for concern regarding his stance on civil rights. She pointed particularly to his nomination of Jeff Sessions, a longstanding opponent of civil rights organizations, for the position of attorney general. “I am worried, as others are, that we are really entering a period that will be marked by some of the greatest threats to civil rights that we’ve seen in a generation,” Lenhardt said.

The second panel offered perspectives on the fates of the Supreme Court, the legislative process, tax reform, and the regulatory process, offered by Andrew Kent, James Brudney, Linda Sugin, and Aaron Saiger, respectively.

Kent outlined Trump’s possible nominees for Antonin Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court seat, predicting that congressional Democrats were unlikely to mount the sort of scorched-earth campaign against Trump’s nominee that congressional Republicans had launched against Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee for the Court.

Both Brudney and Sugin saw possible points of conflict between the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, whose opinions differed on such issues as the national budget deficit, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and tax reform. “Although they agree on certain things,” said Sugin, “there are significant disagreements between the Trump tax plan and the plan of the congressional Republicans. It’s not clear that the first 100 days is going to be able to produce tax reform as Trump seems to be thinking that it will.”

Saiger foresaw an almost immediate repeal of many of Obama’s executive actions. “Progressives have reason to regret that President Obama was an aggressive unilateralist,” he said. “He liked to do things without getting permission from anybody else. The basic rule is however you did it, that’s how you can undo it.”

In a question-and-answer period following the panel discussion, panelists suggested concerned students find paths to civic participation in their legal work and fight for the maintenance of civic norms regardless of their political inclinations.

“I think the point about shared norms is an important one,” said Lenhardt. “And that’s true whether you supported Hillary Clinton, or Bernie, or whether you supported Trump. In some ways that’s what gives me the most concern: There’s a sense that the fabric that holds us all together might just be unraveling in ways that we can’t put back together. And I think that crosses political boundaries. At least it should.”


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