UW News

December 22, 2016

New UW law course focuses on presidential power in the Trump era

News and Information

Photo of Donald Trump

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump’s promises on the campaign trail have generated confusion and consternation around the country, as many wonder not only what the president-elect actually intends to do, but what is within his power to accomplish.

Will Trump follow through on his threat to deport millions of undocumented immigrants? Could he pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement? And what of Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act?

Such questions will be the focus of new course on presidential power and its limits starting January 2017 at the University of Washington School of Law. Law professors Sanne Knudsen and Kathryn Watts will teach the course and said they created it after the election at the request of students.

“They had been reading so much in the news about what the Trump election would mean, and as part of that coverage, there was an emphasis on the power that a president does and does not have while in office,” Knudsen said. “This course is a perfect synergy between students’ needs, current events and our expertise at the law school.”

The three-credit course will start with an introduction to the relationship between the president and the other two branches of government, followed by a look at “week one under President Trump.”

The class will then delve into case studies on hot-button issues such as climate change, health care and immigration, with a variety of UW law professors serving as guest speakers. Confirmed speakers and topics so far include:

Watts and Knudsen will also lend their expertise — both teach administrative law, and Watts’ scholarship focuses on presidential power and decision-making by the Supreme Court. The breadth of knowledge among UW law school faculty, Knudsen said, made it possible to put the course together quickly.

“Normally it takes law professors much more time to work up a course like this. But we have so much subject matter expertise in-house,” she said. “We tried to pick issues that really highlight the expertise of our faculty.”

Students will be expected to follow national news sources of their choosing to assess coverage of issues being discussed in class. There’s no required casebook or final exam — instead, students will be required to practice the civil engagement tools examined in the course by drafting either a comment in an ongoing rulemaking, intended to provide detailed feedback to a government agency on proposed regulations; a citizen petition for rulemaking, which lays out a proposal for new regulation; or an amicus brief, a legal document filed in an ongoing case to provide broader context to the case.

“This will enable students not to just learn about legal tools, but to try their hand at drafting documents that have a role in shaping policy and play a role in the legal framework,” Watts said.

Despite the course being a late addition to the winter quarter schedule, there was a wait list within a day of it being announced, Knudsen said. Other UW faculty members have asked if they can sit in on the class, Watts said, and law professors from other schools have asked for the course outline.

The UW already offers a course on administrative law, but the new course extends that content to include case studies and current events. Though the course was prompted by Trump’s win, Knudsen said it is relevant any time the U.S. presidency changes.

“This is not the first time that our nation has been asking these questions,” she said. “The level of interest this year has shown us that this is a meaningful course to offer every time we have a presidential transition.”

For more information, contact Knudsen at sknudsen@uw.edu or 206-221-7443 or Watts at kawatts@uw.edu or 206-543-6299.

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