Research

In the post-war United States, a permanent national security state has been created. It is expensive and complex, comprised of everything from the nation’s conventional military forces to expensive weapons programs and intelligence operations. At the end of wars, Congress has influence over the size of the national security state, but the president determines its trajectory. By analyzing federal spending for the Department of Defense, I argue that presidents prioritize certain types of cuts, such as a reduction of force structure, to meet their long-term goals. But to implement further reductions, a president must overcome opposition from subordinates, in the military as well as Congress. President Eisenhower did this in the 1950s by innovating; he implemented new policies, embraced new solutions to old policy problems, and adopted suggested alternatives by others in order to secure greater reductions in defense spending.

Modern Supreme Court nomination hearings are contentious political events, as evidenced by the four held during the 109th and 111th Congresses to confirm John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Senators appear to purposely raise suspicion of nominees through their questioning during Judiciary Committee hearings, connecting the label of “judicial restraint” with candidates who are men, white, straight, and prone to “reason.” This is contrasted by appointees thought to embody the feminine, non-white, queer, and emotional practices of “judicial activism.” This dichotomous construction has made debates during the nomination process destructively reductive. A paradox thus emerges: by ignoring the importance of descriptive representation, the identity of potential justices to the Supreme Court becomes one of the most salient issues during the hearings; subsequently, this has resulted in senators using cues to create a caricature or “straw man” of nominees belonging to one or more minority groups in order to weaken and discredit otherwise qualified jurists and achieve a party “win” against the White House.

  • “To the Moon & Back: The Quest for Presidential Prestige” (submitted)

Why did the United States heed JFK’s 1961 call to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade whereas George W. Bush’s call for a permanent moon base four decades later was summarily dismissed? NASA’s 60th anniversary marks the perfect time to assess why the United States has successfully heeded presidential initiatives for human space exploration. I argue the goal of landing humans on the moon was made possible due to three conditions being met: The decision was made by a president seeking individual prestige. A successor was designated to complete the project. And the challenge was accepted due to the presence of a competitor to the United States within the international system. I conclude that Bush’s 2004 proposal to return to the moon ultimately failed because it only met one of these conditions.

  • “Ensnaring Team Trump: The Banking Secrecy Act of 1970 and Congressional Intent” (in progress)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election implicated several members of Team Trump on charges of tax evasion and money laundering. The Banking Secrecy Act of 1970 was passed by Congress to combat financial crimes, especially tax evasion through the use of secret bank accounts abroad. However, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Patriot Act expanded the ability of financial institutions to help counter terrorism by creating a privatized bureaucratic apparatus throughout the United States. By tracing the development of this anti-money laundering (AML) regime, I argue that the justification for its creation by Congress does not align with how it functions today. This regime is inefficient at locating hidden terrorists that threaten the West, but instead has become a political weapon used to capture the illicit activities of various political actors in the United States. These laws have allowed political opponents of the president to release Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS), deploying them as political weapons to damage individuals related to Trump, but also violate the privacy rights of individuals, cause the public to presume them guilty without trial, and possibly undermine the ongoing investigations being conducted by federal investigators.

  • “Terrorism as Tool of Coercive Federalism: The Case of the Portland Christmas Tree Bomber” (in progress)

In November 2010, Mohamed Osman Mohamud intended to detonate a bomb and blow up the city’s Christmas tree in downtown Portland, Oregon. However, his plans never came to fruition given that the FBI was secretly working undercover, pretending to provide him the materials necessary to build his bomb while tracking this potential terrorist. At trial Mohamud’s lawyers were unable to convince jurors that he had been entrapped, but the actions of the federal agency changed the course of city politics in Portland. Previously, it was the only major city in the United States to opt out of the government’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, an intergovernmental innovation following the September 11th attacks to assist law enforcement at all levels to coordinate and thwart potential terrorists. After the plot’s revelation, the city’s leaders voted to participate in the JTTF. Using interviews, I argue that, regardless of the question of entrapment, the federal government’s actions in this case reveal a new form of coercive federalism, where agencies of the national government use fear and the potential of terrorism to extend popular support for counterterror policies. The result is extension of the homeland security state and homogenization of policy across the United States. This case is also of renewed importance given the outcome of the 2016 election and President Trump’s criticism of the agency’s role within our federal system and the tactics it deploys.