Vanderbilt's New Faculty

Vanderbilt Law School welcomed five new professors in fall 2011: J.B. Ruhl, a nationally renowned scholar of land use and environmental law, who now holds the David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law; and four assistant professors: Rebecca Haw, who focuses on antitrust law; Vijay Padmanabhan, who focused on national security law at the U.S. State Department before joining the academy; Ganesh Sitaraman, whose current work addresses foreign relations law and counterinsurgency strategy; and Yesha Yadav, who focuses on financial regulation.

Addressing Thorny Legal Questions

Vijay Padmanabhan, Assistant Professor of Law

Vijay Padmanabhan

As the U.S. State Department's chief counsel on Guantanamo and Iraq detainee litigation from 2006-08, Vijay Padmanabhan found himself working on a legal frontier. "When the U.S. goes to war with a non-state group, there isn't much out there in terms of developed law," he said. He discovered many more questions than answers, which motivated him to join the legal academy when he left the State Department in 2008. "There are so many important questions to be resolved," he said. "The opportunity to spend time studying some of the issues we really struggled with in the State Department and possibly produce some answers continues to motivate me today."

Padmanabhan graduated at the top of his class at Georgetown with a major in international business and minors in English and economics, having studied for a year at the London School of Economics as an undergraduate. He earned his law degree magna cum laude at New York University, where he was an associate editor of the law review. After clerking for Judge James L. Dennis on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, he joined the State Department's Office of the Legal Advisor in 2003. He spent his first three years at the State Department dealing with international claims and investment disputes, including litigation in the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal and Holocaust restitution claims. After John B. Bellinger III joined the State Department as its Legal Advisor in 2005, Padmanabhan assumed the role of the department's chief counsel on Guantanamo and Iraq detainee litigation. For his work in that role, in which he also advised the department on human rights and the law of war as well as public diplomacy questions, Padmanabhan received the office's Superior Honor Award in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

“Governments are struggling to balance their obligation to provide human rights protections to suspected terrorists while at the same time protecting their people.”

Padmanabhan left the State Department in 2008 to join the faculty of the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. Soon thereafter, he and Bellinger—who is an adjunct senior fellow on national security law at the Council on Foreign Relations—began work on a journal article addressing some of the thorny issues they had faced at the State Department. "Detention Operations in Contemporary Conflicts: Four Challenges for the Geneva Conventions and Other Existing Law," co-authored by the pair, was published in the American Journal of International Law in 2011.

"Nations have been struggling with legal questions surrounding detention of members of non-state groups since the 9/11 attacks," Padmanabhan said. "We wrote from the perspective of two former State Department lawyers to demonstrate how existing law doesn't adequately address several important questions regarding detainees. Our goal was to create a foundation for the development of new law in this area. While a new treaty might be the ideal, that's very unlikely, so we proposed the interim step of an agreement on common principles."

In another article published in the Fordham Law Review in 2011, Padmanabhan addressed "non-refoulement," the duty that human rights law imposes on nations to refrain from transferring an individual to another nation where there are substantial grounds for believing he or she will be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. "Governments are struggling to balance their obligation to provide human rights protections to suspected terrorists with their obligation to protect their citizens from the danger of terrorism," Padmanabhan said. "I think international law has to date been insufficiently appreciative of the rights of the public to be protected from dangerous terrorists, and this paper argues that the law should account more completely for all of the rights at stake."

Padmanabhan is affiliated with Vanderbilt's International Legal Studies and Criminal Justice programs and teaches International Law, Human Rights Law and National Securities Law.

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