The Law as It Lives

The 2016–17 NYU Law Forum brought together journalists, academics, politicians, and business professionals to address a variety of legal and public policy issues. Among the topics featured during the lunchtime discussion series were transgender rights, election law, reproductive justice, and trademarks.


An October Forum titled “Brexit: Now What?” looked at the implications of Britain’s departure from the European Union. Professor of Economics and Law—and former Bank of England governor—Mervyn King downplayed concerns that Brexit would give a boost to Euroskeptic parties on the continent, noting that other countries “don’t slavishly follow what the British do.” That proved prescient, as populist candidates in the Netherlands and France suffered defeat in elections in the spring. Still, King and other panelists pointed to aspects of the EU’s governance structure that present barriers to further integration among member states and could even lead to an erosion of unity. “The whole European project is politically very fragile and vulnerable,” said Ladislav Vyhnánek LLM ’14, assistant professor of law at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic.


The changing political climate around the globe has also exposed the fragility of human rights protections, and this was the focus of “Human Rights in an Illiberal Age,” a February Forum. Professor of Clinical Law Margaret Satterthwaite ’99, who moderated the discussion, noted that common tactics of populist regimes that have gained power in many countries include fanning hatred of minority populations and moving to dismantle or disrupt democratic institutions of the state and society. John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law Philip Alston observed that the surge in populist and nationalist sentiment in many regions has been driven in good part by economic insecurity of the middle classes, who have seen “their access to jobs, the wages they get, the prospects they have… undermined over the last 40 years or so.” The overall human rights framework, said Alston, needs to expand to encompass social rights, which include the right to an adequate standard of living. (Alston is the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.)


A Forum in March featured an appearance by Vijaya Gadde ’00, general counsel of Twitter and a trustee of the Law School. A week before Gadde’s Forum appearance, President Trump had told Fox News, “I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter.” When Professor Christopher Jon Sprigman asked how she felt about that, Gadde responded with a broader view. “I look at what Twitter means in the world and what type of conversation it’s enabled,” she said. “And to me there’s nothing better than having a political discourse in plain and open view and having access to your elected officials and being able to hold them accountable.” That said, Gadde acknowledged that Twitter has its limits as a political platform: “Twitter is not to be the sole tool for political diplomacy or political discourse. It can’t be. It’s 140 characters. It should not be driving an entire policy agenda or an entire administration.”

Posted September 1, 2017