A Preview to the Obama Doctrine

Julie Dostal '19
Features Editor

The Virginia Journal of International Law and the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law are sponsoring their annual International Law Symposium on Thursday, March 23 from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm in Caplin Pavilion. Entitled “The Obama Doctrine: International Law and Policy of the 44th President,” the Symposium will examine hallmark international initiatives furthered during Obama’s administration and will discuss how these initiatives may transform under President Trump. The Symposium will cover a range of public and private international law issues, led by panels composed of academics, practicing attorneys, journalists, and officials from the Obama administration.

The Symposium begins at 12:15 pm with a lunchtime discussion by University of Virginia Law School Professor Saikrishna Prakash regarding executive orders and subsequent disorder stemming from confusion about the orders’ provenance and their limits. Professor Prakash’s scholarship concerns separation of powers, with a particular emphasis on executive authority and the limits of presidential power. He has emerged as one of the leading advocates for the use of originalism as a methodology for interpreting the Constitution’s structural provisions. Professor Prakash’s position on originalism may stem partly from his time as a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, known for his strong attachment to originalism as a means of interpretation, on the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Prakash will focus his discussion on great confusion existing about executive orders, with some brief comments on recent controversies.

At 12:30 pm, a four-person panel  will focus on the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, as reflected in the title of the event, “Pivot to Asia: Ongoing Disputes in the South China Sea, Nuclear Weapon Build-Up in North Korea, and the Unsure Future of U.S.-Asia Trade Relations.” “Pivot” quickly became a buzzword for the Obama administration’s foreign policy shift from the Middle East to Asia-Pacific. Among several goals, the pivot intended to strengthen military and security alliances, expand trade relations and investment opportunities, and advance human rights. The panel members will examine the setbacks the Obama administration faced in striving towards these broad-based policy goals and if, and how, President Trump will continue an Asia-Pacific shift. UVa Law School professor and Director of the Center for National Security Law John Norton Moore will moderate the panel. The panel features University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Jacques deLisle, a foremost expert on contemporary Chinese law and politics; Lieutenant Commander Rachel Mangas, an associate professor at Judge Advocate General Corps Legal Center and former assistant general counsel for the United States Navy in Japan; Georgetown Law professor John T. Oliver, the Senior Ocean Policy Advisor for the U.S. Coast Guard; and Bloomberg News correspondent Toluse Olorunnipa.

Following the Pivot to Asia discussion, at 2:00 pm, UVa Law Professor Paul B. Stephan will moderate a discussion between Georgetown Law Professor David P. Stewart and international law attorney Richard D. Klinger on the impact of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act of 2016 on the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity. In September 2016, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), allowing families of 9/11 victims to bring suit against instrumentalities of foreign nations that provide material support to terrorists. While the bill’s sponsors asserted that JASTA is narrowly drawn, the Obama administration contended that such legislation imperils Americans abroad. The panel will delve into potential ramifications from loosening the strict provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, effects on the international doctrine of sovereign immunity, and the impact of the United States’ relationship with allies abroad.

At 3:30 pm, the Symposium continues with a moderated discussion concerning the corporate challenges posed after the Joint Comprehensive Plan (JCOPA) with Iran. NYU School of Law Professor Zachary K. Goldman, an expert on national security and international sanctions law, will serve as a moderator in discussion between UVa law alum Eric J. Kadel, who now serves as the principal partner in Sullivan and Cromwell’s international trade and investment practice, and Lindsay B. Meyer, the head of the International Trade practice for Venable LLP. The panel will focus on the corporate challenges following the inception of the JCOPA, specifically the hesitance of banks and private interests to enter the Iranian market.

The Symposium concludes with a keynote address titled, “Weathering the Perfect Storm: Can the United States Accommodate the Mass Migration of Refugees While Guarding Against Nefarious Actors and Combating Terrorism at Home and Abroad?” at 5 pm. The keynote address is co-sponsored by the Immigration Law Program. UVa Distinguished Professor of Law David Martin will introduce keynote speaker and fellow UVa law alumnus Peter S. Vincent. As the current Assistant Director General of International Policy for Borderpol and the General Counsel for Thomson Reuters Special Services, LLP, Vincent is a foremost expert on international intelligence information and cybersecurity.

According to Vincent, also an Obama appointee to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the mass migration of refugees and asylum-seekers from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa and an unprecedented wave of terrorism in the West have tragically combined to create a 'perfect storm' of death, destruction, misery, fear, distrust, and xenophobia. Vincent contends that the United States and other Western nations can provide safe havens to these victims while at the same time guarding against any nefarious actors who might seek to exploit these legitimate streams of irregular migrants to perpetrate acts of terror, and indeed, it is our collective legal and moral obligation to do so. A reception with refreshments and food will follow the keynote at 6:15 pm.