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Stephen Vladeck looks to keep federal powers in check

A Constitutional Scholar for Our Times

s the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, Stephen I. Vladeck was attending his second day of classes at Yale Law School. His reaction: “The best response to such a horrible catastrophe is to fall back on that which makes us unique—American concepts of freedom and democracy and the rule of law.”

A native New Yorker, Vladeck became an associate professor in the School of Law last year after having made a name for himself at the tender age of 25 as a prolific scholar in the areas of civil procedure, federal courts, national security law, and constitutional law. He has published extensively on these topics and served as a consultant on the defense team of some high-profile cases, including that of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, arrested in Chicago in 2002 and held as an “enemy combatant” but not charged until 2005 on lesser offenses. Padilla faces a Miami trial in September, pending his U.S. Supreme Court challenge. Vladeck also works with Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal, advising the civilian defense team of Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, the first person charged with criminal offenses by the military tribunals at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the military order President Bush issued in 2001.

Vladeck, who double majored in mathematics and history at Amherst College before attending Yale, notes that he’s been intrigued long before September 11 by how societies respond to crises. He cites the post-World War II war crimes tribunals, an analogy that for him “calls into question the long-term utility of such an aggressive, punitive legal response.”

An outspoken advocate for the rights of those detained without trial, Vladeck often engages in spirited debates with conservative friends and colleagues. “My view of government is not as a safety net but as having responsibilities greater than the sum of its parts. I’m more interested, legally, in the separation-of-powers questions than the individual civil rights questions.”

A science fiction buff, the six-foot-eight Vladeck plays intramural softball and basketball at the University of Miami, where he’s younger than many of his students. “I think they appreciate having someone at the front of the room who’s so recently been through roughly the same gauntlet.”

He sees the University of Miami as a good professional fit, and he also shares some roots with the administration. His father, Bruce, served as administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) for former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services—and current University of Miami President—Donna E. Shalala.

“I love the classroom experience,” Vladeck says, “and the fact that I have time to work on these cases, which probably would not be true at most other jobs for lawyers my age.”

— Leonard Nash

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