Ashley Deeks Named Head of New National Security Law Center

Ashley Deeks and an aircraft carrier

Professor Ashley Deeks, the E. James Kelly, Jr.– Class of 1965 Research Professor of Law and a fellow at UVA’s Miller Center, joined the law faculty eight years ago. Photo by Ian Bradshaw/iStock

September 8, 2020

Professor Ashley Deeks, a national security law expert and former official with the U.S. State Department, has been named director of the National Security Law Center at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The center will help support the academic contributions of faculty, and serve as a hub for professors and working professionals to exchange ideas, as well as create increased opportunities for students interested in national security law.

“Our affiliated faculty members have impressive backgrounds in national security law and draw from their government and military experiences in their scholarship and teaching,” Deeks said.

Currently the E. James Kelly, Jr.– Class of 1965 Research Professor of Law and a senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center, Deeks joined the law faculty eight years ago. Before her career in academia, she advised the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser and served as the embassy legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

She has written articles on the use of force, executive power, secret treaties, the intersection of national security and international law, and the laws of armed conflict. She is a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law and serves as a senior contributor to the Lawfare blog. Deeks also serves on the boards of editors of the American Journal of International Law and the Journal of National Security Law and Policy. She is a senior fellow at the Lieber Institute for Law and Land Warfare, and a faculty affiliate of the National Security Policy Center at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Her recent articles include “High-Tech International Law” for the George Washington Law Review; “Secret Reason-Giving” for the Yale Law Journal (exploring hidden checks on government power); and “The Judicial Demand for Explainable Artificial Intelligence” for the Columbia Law Review.

A sampling of other affiliated faculty bringing real-world experience to the center includes:

  • Aditya Bamzai, a former attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, and a former appellate attorney in both private practice and for the National Security Division of the Department of Justice. He has argued cases relating to the separation of powers and national security in the U.S. Supreme Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, D.C. Circuit and other federal courts of appeals. An article he wrote on separation of powers appeared last year in the Harvard Law Review. He currently serves on the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
  • Kristen Eichensehr, a former special assistant to the legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State, and a former attorney at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in appellate litigation and international and national security law, including cybersecurity issues. She now writes about many of these same issues. Her article “The Law & Politics of Cyberattack Attribution” is forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review.
  • Thomas Nachbar, a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserve. He has, among other assignments, edited an Army handbook on the development of legal systems, trained Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and been deployed to Iraq. He is also the convener of the Stanton Series on Liberty and Security, and a faculty affiliate of the National Security Policy Center at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. His article “Algorithmic Fairness, Algorithmic Discrimination” is forthcoming in the Florida State University Law Review.
  • Paul Stephan ’77, a former counselor of international law at the State Department. He has advised governments and international organizations; taken part in cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, the federal courts, and various foreign judicial and arbitral proceedings; and lectured to professionals and scholarly groups around the world on issues raised by the globalization of the world economy. He is currently on leave to serve as special counsel to the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense. He has authored numerous books, book chapters and articles, including the recent book “Comparative International Law,” co-authored with other UVA Law professors.

Deeks pointed to a course Nachbar teaches as an example of collaborations she hopes will flourish with the new center’s support. Innovation in the Public Interest, which Nachbar co-instructs with UVA computer science and public policy experts, allowed students last spring to work on real problems facing the U.S. Department of Defense. The students presented their research directly to the Pentagon.

That’s among her primary goals for the center, Deeks said — to build increased connections with students and to focus on national security issues in the age of big data. Deeks’ own recent scholarship has pondered the legal implications of information technology, such as artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms that help make military decisions.

“Some of the most pressing national security concerns today don't arise on traditional battlefields,” she said. “I want to make sure students interested in national security law are well versed in these newer threats.”

That said, she added, “I view the center as being a big tent, with room for many different facets of national security.”

The center will work directly with student groups such as Law, Innovation, Security, & Technology and the new National Security Law Forum. A speaker series on cybersecurity is tentatively planned for the spring, and Deeks hopes a machine learning boot camp, for both students and faculty, will be a recurring  offering each summer.

Interest in national security law is strong among UVA Law students, Deeks said, in part because many are continuing their education in the field. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School is just next door to the Law School.

“We have a lot of students that come in with security and intelligence backgrounds,” she said. “Some want to maintain their clearances while they’re here.”

Deeks also noted the strong representation national security has at UVA Law among adjunct professors, largely because of the proximity of the Law School to Washington, D.C.

The National Security Law Center steps into the shoes of the Center for National Security Law at UVA. Professor Emeritus John Norton Moore, that center’s long-time director and co-founder, retired in the spring.

Recent Faculty Scholarship

Aditya Bamzai

Ashley Deeks

Kristen Eichensehr

Thomas Nachbar

Paul Stephan

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