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Preparation Is Key To Avoiding ‘Worst-Case Outcome,’ Chertoff Says

Publication Date: 
April 16, 2008
Stanford Report
Lisa Trei

Former Dean and Director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center Kathleen Sullivan moderated a panel featuring Stanford Law Professors Pamela Karlan and Robert Weisberg, among others, at a symposium in Washington D.C. that examined how agencies can respond to deadly natural or man-made epidemics while protecting individual rights. Professor Sullivan is quoted and Stanford Constitutional Law Center Fellow Laura Donohue explains the rationale behind the symposium:

Professor Sullivan opened the panel by reflecting on how recent health crises have informed ongoing legal and policy debates: "West Nile virus. Anthrax mailings. Avian flu—responses to these infectious disease issues and concern about bioterrorism are running about our minds as we think about the response to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and the complex web of local, state and federal authority to deal with such emergencies. What does the Constitution have to say about our ability to deal with infectious disease, whether it's naturally occurring or composed as a weapon of violence?"


Laura Donohue, a CISAC affiliate and a 2007 Stanford Law School graduate who is the inaugural fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, conceived the daylong event to bring together policy-makers and constitutional experts to discuss response to natural pandemics and bioterrorism. "It was a chance to bring together the policy world, both operational and strategic, and give them the opportunity to talk to legal experts," she said. "This helped policy-makers think through the issues and think outside the box, and it did so in a non-threatening manner."

Donohue said she was prompted to create the symposium after directing a CISAC-supported terrorism-response exercise in 2003 that involved more than 25 agencies at the national, state and local levels. "In these exercises involving first responders, legal issues always got pushed off the table," Donohue said. "I was struck by this. In an emergency, the law goes out the window. Then, when I got to law school, I saw the broader legal and constitutional context for this discussion."

With support from the directors at CISAC and Stanford Law School, and funding from donor Peter Bing and the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, Donohue brought the two groups together in a high-profile setting.

"This was Stanford in Washington," she said. "It was an opportunity for Stanford to be visible at the U.S. Senate with participation from leading people on these issues. There is no doubt we got an audience we wouldn't otherwise have attracted."