Category Archives: Teaching National Security Law

National Security Law Pedagogy and the Role of Simulations

This article challenges the dominant pedagogical assumptions in the legal academy. It begins by briefly considering the state of the field of national security law, noting the rapid expansion in employment and the breadth of related positions that have been created post-9/11. It considers, in the process, how the legal academy has, as an institutional matter, responded to the demand. The article then proposes a new model for national security legal education, based on innovations currently underway at Georgetown Law. It points to a new model of legal education that advances students in their pedagogical goals, while complementing, rather than supplanting, the critical intellectual discourse that underlies the value of higher legal education.

United States v. Klein: Judging Its Clarity and Application

Professor Wasserman offers several evaluations of the Supreme Court’s 1872 decision in Klein. In places he states that it was issued in a “pathological period,” is confusing to read, and therefore difficult to apply. Yet elsewhere in his article he finds the decision to be understandable and recognizes that it offers several clear separation of powers principles. Between those two competing and conflicting positions, the latter analysis is on firmer ground. His article focuses on two recent national security issues – the 2008 statute granting immunity to telecoms that provided assistance to NSA surveillance, and the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 – to determine whether they are consistent with and controlled by Klein.


Professor Wasserman describes Klein as the product of what Vincent Blasi “has called a period of constitutional pathology, a period reflecting ‘an unusually serious challenge to one or more of the central norms of the constitutional regime.’” Pathological periods, Blasi says, are marked by a “sense of urgency stemming from societal disorientation if not panic.” They come at a time of “a shift in basic attitudes, among certain influential actors if not the public at large,” concerned with what Wasserman calls “central constitutional commitments.” Panic can affect structural features, including formal and informal separation of powers and checks and balances, which may “exert much less of a restraining influence” on the political branches and the public.” Rigorous judicial review “must be reserved for extreme cases challenging pathological laws and action . . . as a bulwark against overreaching officials and citizens.”

Klein arose, Wasserman points out, “in a previous pathological period –Reconstruction.” That is true, but what does that say about the clarity of the decision and subsequent ability to apply it with confidence? Good things and bad things come out of periods of stress and panic. The“pathological” period after the Civil War yielded three constitutional amendments: the Thirteenth (abolishing slavery), the Fourteenth (establishing new rights), and the Fifteenth (extending the right to vote). Those years opened up new professional opportunities for women. Some branches of government may perform well, others poorly. The requirement each time is to analyze a particular case or action to determine how well a political institution carries out its constitutional duties. In considering Klein in the context of the politics of 1872, the Court was clearly under stress but issued a decision that pushed back against indefensible legislation and did so in a manner that gave clear and valued guidance to future legislation and litigation.

Why Klein (Still) Matters: Congressional Deception and the War on Terrorism

No one seriously claims that the Supreme Court’s 1872 decision in United States v. Klein is a model of clarity. Justice Field’s opinion for the Court is as enigmatic as it is intriguing, providing the only pre-2008 example of a Supreme Court decision invalidating an Act of Congress for unconstitutionally depriving the federal courts of jurisdiction. The million dollar question, of course, is why the Court so ruled, and no amount of scholarship, no matter the quality of the analysis or the intellectual abilities of the author, has managed to settle the issue to any meaningful degree. Indeed, even when the Klein “rule” has been deployed by contemporary jurists as a basis for invalidating federal legislation, such efforts have, charitably, failed to persuade. Thus, although virtually all observers agree that Klein bars Congress from commanding the courts to rule for a particular party in a pending case, the question remains whether it stands for any broader constraint on legislative power.

Professor Howard Wasserman’s response to this state of doctrinal, academic, and juridical indeterminacy is to suggest that it conclusively establishes Klein’s insignificance, and that Klein’s importance to the modern Federal Courts canon is really a “myth,” born out of a “false belief that Klein establishes vigorous judicially enforceable constitutional limitations on Congress.”  To be sure, Wasserman does not believe Klein to be devoid of force; rather, he concludes that “[m]ost blatantly Klein violative laws are never enacted; Klein-vulnerable laws that have been enacted raise no meaningful or serious Klein problems and should survive any separation of powers challenge.”