Duke-Harvard workshop facilitates high-level discussion in foreign relations law

November 15, 2010Duke Law News

An interdisciplinary group of 16 top scholars gathered at Duke Law School on Nov. 6 to examine a range of issues relating to the interactions of the president and Congress in the area of foreign relations.

The invitation-only Duke-Harvard Foreign Relations Law Workshop was convened by Curtis Bradley, Duke’s Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Public Policy Studies, and Jack Goldsmith, the Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard. Frequent academic collaborators and co-authors of a widely used casebook on foreign relations law, Bradley and Goldsmith launched the annual workshop six years ago to facilitate high-level discussion on challenging, topical issues in the area, to create deeper connections among experts in the field, and to spark new avenues of academic inquiry and collaboration. Duke and Harvard alternate as host institutions.

Always crafted with a view to including diverse perspectives and scholarly methodologies among workshop participants, the most recent gathering was expressly designed, Bradley said, to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue; half of the participants were academic political scientists with expertise in domestic politics and the rest were legal scholars. The group focused their short scholarly papers written in advance of the meeting, presentations, and discussions on such timely topics as secrecy, war powers, accountability in U.S. international lawmaking, international trade and other delegations, and partisanship in U.S. foreign affairs.

“Our idea was to think harder about how Congress and the president interact,” Bradley said. “The outcome of the midterm elections and the fact that the president is still relatively new raise interesting issues. The fact that Congress is again partly divided raises interesting issues about how foreign relations law gets developed.

“U.S. foreign relations law often connects up with how Congress and the president operate and interact with each other, so we thought the lawyers would benefit from the insights the political scientists have on these issues and on how Congress, as a body, operates, and how its committees work. On the other hand, the law professors would understand the legal institutions and legal rules in ways that would be helpful to the political scientists.”

Professor Jide Nzelibe of Northwestern Law School said he appreciated the “rare opportunity” the workshop offered for legal scholars and political scientists to share exchange insights about the institutional design issues that underpin the American approach to foreign relations.

“Typically, as legal scholars we tend to approach these questions from a normative perspective, but we also understand that our policy prescriptions have to be rooted in a realistic account of the behavior of elected officials and courts,” he said. “By providing a forum for interdisciplinary discussion, the workshop allowed scholars in both fields to tease out more rigorously the empirical assumptions that underpin both the positive and normative questions that dominate debates in both fields.”
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