By Sheila Pursglove
Stephanie Blum, adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law, teaches a hot button topic – National Security Law.
An attorney for the Department of Homeland Security, where she advises and supports the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), Blum also teaches terrorism-related courses at the MSU School of Criminal Justice.
“CRCL makes sure that DHS and its offices are mindful of civil rights and civil liberties implications when they create homeland security policies, and investigates complaints filed by the public alleging abuses of civil rights caused by the Department’s policies, procedures, or personnel,” she says.
“I provide written and oral advice on issues dealing with the Fourth Amendment, Equal Protection, and First Amendment related activities.”
The field is dynamic and incorporates several other fields, she says.
“Law students need to understand not only national security law, but also constitutional law, immigration law, international law, comparative law and lots of other fields as well.
“I enjoy creating the content and structure of courses and trying to find interesting and accessible ways to present complex material,” Blum says. “I enjoy discussing issues from lots of different angles and encouraging my students to think critically and push themselves to understand positions that they normally would disagree with. Law students have a natural inclination to argue points of view they don’t necessarily agree with so it makes it exciting to teach a course with no clear right answers and hear their thoughts.”
Blum earned a master’s degree in security studies in 2008 – “a little bit of good luck that just evolved out of my career circumstances,” she says. After clerking for three federal judges then working in employment litigation for Jenner & Block in Chicago, she found a position as an employment litigator with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that had opened up a mission support center in Detroit. Blum and her husband, a Detroit native whom she met at the University of Chicago, were looking to return to the Motor City.
“It seemed like a natural transition to move from private practice to working for the government,” she says.
Blum defended TSA management and personnel against accusations of employment discrimination and challenges to adverse personnel decisions before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Merit Systems Protection Board, and federal court – winning the Silver Medal Award, Illumination Award, Special Act Award, and Bronze Medal Award for tenacity, strength, and persuasiveness in litigating cases and excellent trial skills, including extensive pretrial briefing and highly effective direct and cross examination.
After five years with TSA, Blum became more interested in policy issues affecting the newly created Department of Homeland Security, of which TSA was a part. When the opportunity arose to obtain a master’s degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, sponsored by DHS, she jumped at the chance.
“The program was intense because we completed the course work while working full-time at our day jobs and were required to write a thesis,” she says. “This program really transformed my professional interests. It confirmed my interest in policy work but also opened a new door to writing academic articles about the intersection of civil rights and liberties with homeland security policies.”
Blum’s thesis, “Preventive Detention in the War on Terror: A Plan for a More Moderate and Sustainable Solution,” won the Outstanding Thesis Award at her December 2008 graduation. She turned it into a book as well as two journal articles, and has written several other articles looking at surveillance reform and unused counterterrorism tools.
Her book, published by Cambria Press in 2008, explores the underlying rationales for preventive detention as a counterterrorism tool and analyzes the legal obstacles to creating a preventive detention regime for U.S. persons.
“After comparing and analyzing several different alternative preventive detention regimes – including looking at how Israel and Britain handled the detention of terrorist suspects – I recommend using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor a narrow regime of preventive detention for U.S. persons.
“While some of the book is outdated now, many of the underlying principles are still relevant, especially given the current controversy over the National Defense Authorization Act and to what extent it authorizes the military detention of U.S. persons associated with al-Qaeda.”
In 2009, after graduation from the master’s program, and while still at TSA, she did a detail to the National Security Division at the Department of Justice where she was a member of a Task Force set up by Executive Order looking at policy options for the detention and trial of terrorist suspects. After the Task Force, she was able to make the transition to her current position with DHS.
Blum got her start in this career by earning a bachelor’s degree in political science, magna cum laude, from Yale.
“I was drawn to the role and purpose of government and the best way to organize societies,” she says. “I also enjoyed the reading and writing component that went into studying political science.”
She earned her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, and says law was always her career target.
“I never seriously considered any other professional field. I love to argue, analyze, read and write so it seemed liked a natural fit. I also like to explore issues from all different sides.
“I realized I wanted to work for the government after doing internships with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago and after working as a traffic prosecutor for the City of Chicago. I thought that would combine my interests in government with my legal skills.
A Baltimore native who grew up in Dallas, Blum enjoys reading and playing strategy board games, and hanging out with friends and family. She and her husband, who works in commercial real estate, have a nine-year old daughter and seven-year old son.
As the country turns the corner into 2012, Blum is gearing up for another year of teaching.
“I look forward to inspiring students to enter the field of homeland security,” she says.