First 100 Days

President Trump’s First 100 Days: A Symposium

Sponsored by the Illinois Law Review and the Illinois Program in Constitutional Theory, History and Law

During his first 100 days in office in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously signed sixteen major bills into law and issued a series of executive orders all directed at overhauling the economy and pulling the nation out of economic depression. Ever since Roosevelt’s extraordinary achievements, presidents have taken office with high public expectations for getting things done during their first 100 days. The 100-day marker is surely a poor overall gauge of a successful presidency: Abraham Lincoln is among the greatest presidents of all time and, yet, during his first 100 days in the White House, the country split apart. Recognizing the deficiency of the measure, John F. Kennedy sought to end 100-day evaluations. After reciting a list of pledges in his own inaugural address in 1961, Kennedy said: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” The effort was to no avail. Voters do not wait a lifetime for results and presidents cannot avoid the scrutiny that Day 100 brings.

In his “Contract with the American Voter,” President Donald J. Trump pledged to pursue and implement an ambitious program of reforms during his first 100 days of office. The list included ending the influence in Washington of special-interest groups; withdrawing from, or renegotiating, NAFTA; canceling payments to the United Nations; ending funding to “sanctuary cities”; suspending immigration from “terror-prone regions”; appointing a new Supreme Court Justice; and working with Congress to enact legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, reduce taxes on the middle class, fund (with reimbursement from Mexico) a wall along the southern border, and provide for affordable childcare.

Trump’s agenda would be unrealistic for even an experienced president cooperating efficiently with a supportive Congress. Trump himself took office with no prior political experience and an uneasy relationship even with congressional Republicans. It comes as no surprise, then, that most of the items in the Contract with the American Voter have not been achieved. Indeed, if there is a single theme to Trump’s first 100 days, it has been learning how things get done rather than getting them done. After the failure this past March of proposed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump announced: “We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in, obviously, both the Senate and in the House. So it’s been—certainly for me, it’s been a very interesting experience.” Going forward, the question is whether, and how, that experience translates into action.

In this symposium, thirty-one experts analyze the new administration’s achievements—as well as its shortcomings and missteps—across a wide range of areas and discuss what they expect from the administration going forward. The symposium contributors have different backgrounds and offer different perspectives, but each brings a sharp analytical eye to key aspects of the administration’s activities during its first 100 days. Together, the essays provide a comprehensive resource for understanding and debating the initial period of the Trump presidency and for informed evaluation of the administration’s activities in the coming months and years. While the essays can be read in any order, for ease of reference a list and brief description of each essay grouped by subject matter and with the names of the contributing authors is provided below.

Eight of the symposium contributors also participated in a lively roundtable discussion on the Trump presidency, held at the University of Illinois on April 11, 2017. A video of that event is available for viewing.

Topics and Contributors

Civil Rights

Five of the symposium essays focus on issues of civil rights. Stephen Rushin highlights the extraordinary recent decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end federal interventions in local police departments to curb civil-rights violations. Rushin warns of the dangers to civil liberties that will result from the new administration’s “drastic reorientation of federal priorities on police reform.” In his essay on First Amendment rights, Neil Richards deems President Trump’s regular criticisms of political opponents and protesters and demonization of the media, combined with his reliance upon Twitter and a loose regard for facts, as creating a “terrifying” period for freedom of speech and of the press. In their essay on Trump’s relationship with the media, RonNell Andersen Jones and Lisa Sun Grow are equally blunt. They write: “Trump is at war with the press.” Heidi Kitrosser warns that the administration’s decision to end the practice of disclosing White House visitor logs foretells an era of heightened secrecy in the executive branch with accompanying threats to individual rights. Michael Helfand focuses his attention on religious liberties. He writes that, as a result of Trump’s immigration executive orders, “few groups have experienced more tumult during the first 100 days of the Trump administration than religious minorities.” Nonetheless, Helfand takes the position that Justice Gorsuch is likely to vote in ways that will protect the interests of religious minorities—leading to future conflicts between the now fully staffed Supreme Court and the Trump administration.


Two contributors offer insights on voting rights and election laws. Lindsey Ruta Lusk predicts that, under President Trump, the Department of Justice will be disinclined to investigate discriminatory voting mechanisms and practices at the state and local level. She anticipates a resulting rise in state voter-ID laws, with a profound effect upon the ability of minority citizens to exercise the franchise. Derek T. Muller analyzes measures the new administration has already taken to respond to allegations of voter fraud, security breaches, and other problems in the 2016 election, and he highlights future possible interventions and their impact.


Erin Delaney discusses President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and their quick blocking by federal judges. She concludes that the extremism of the administration’s immigration policies might well result in the Supreme Court revisiting its “plenary power” doctrine, under which normal constitutional constraints do not apply to governmental action in the immigration context.  The administration’s hardline approach to immigration might generate stronger judicial protections for individuals impacted by immigration measures.


Akhil Reed Amar offers valuable insights on the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, originalism as a method of constitutional interpretation, and the end of the filibuster with respect to Supreme Court nominations. Jason Mazzone’s essay also takes up the judiciary. In addition to commenting on the Gorsuch appointment, he discusses the unusual opportunity President Trump has to appoint judges to the lower federal courts—perhaps to fill as many as half of all seats—and he identifies a basic tension that has emerged already between the judiciary and the new administration.


Two essays focus on Trump’s campaign promise to do away with the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and the efforts so far on that front. Richard Kaplan charts the as-yet unsuccessful attempts to repeal and replace the ACA and the challenges such reforms entail. In their assessment of the ACA and likely interventions under the new administration, Robin Fretwell Wilson, Ryan Graber, and Larry Sobal take the position that meaningful healthcare reform requires “going back to scratch and thinking what it means to have a doctor-patient relationship and what we value in a healthcare system.”  That process, they contend, requires “a transparent and honest discussion of what Americans value,” including on “what is due to one another, what we can afford, and what is sustainable.”

Education & Science and Technology

Margareth Etienne analyzes what Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education will likely mean for implementation of his campaign pledge to secure greater school choice for families and students. Etienne highlights ways in which the path the administration seems to be on puts many features of our educational system at risk.  Andreas C. Cangellaris reports on President Trump’s lack of attention to important issues of science and technology. Cangellaris cites, in particular, to Trump’s failure to appoint leadership in the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, which plays a key role in advising the executive branch on scientific and technological issues (including budgetary priorities) that implicate economic development, national security, and other key features of our society.

Business and the Economy

Jeffrey R. Brown discusses five economic policy issues to explain why the financial markets have, so far, favorably responded to the Trump presidency. He also identifies areas of looming concern, including the need for sensible long-term fiscal policies. Robin Bradley Kar reflects upon the value of business experience for running government, and he offers some dire warnings about the arrival to the Oval Office of the first “Dealmaker-in-Chief.”


Daniel J. Hermel investigates why President Trump has failed to fulfill his campaign promise to deliver tax relief to the middle class within the first 100 days of his presidency. Among other factors, Hermel highlights the president’s failure to fill key positions at the Treasury Department and the lingering obstacle the president’s refusal to release his own tax returns presents to attracting support from moderate Democrats, thus forcing tax reform through the more onerous budget reconciliation process. Hermel concludes that although Republican control of Congress presents a favorable climate for tax reform, “in the time since Trump entered the White House, he has done everything he could to make the task of tax reduction more difficult for himself.”

The Administrative State

As a candidate, Trump promised to curb the role and reach of federal governmental agencies. Arden Rowell traces Trump’s interventions in the administrative state during the first 100 days. She concludes that, despite “bombastically deregulatory rhetoric” and some “high-profile actions,” such interventions have mostly served to “entrench the status quo.” Verity Winship takes up the specific issue of financial deregulation. She reports that while the new administration has loudly asserted the need for large-scale reform, in the absence of legislative measures from Congress, to date, actual change has been quite modest. Winship cautions, however, that some reforms might have occurred out of clear public view through, for example, internal decisions not to pursue enforcement of existing laws.

The Environment

Eric Freyfogle analyzes the new administration’s approach to environmental issues and the recent loosening of regulations on such things as pollution, methane, and fossil fuels. His assessment is pessimistic. He writes: “Trump’s environmental policies are unlikely to bring net job gains in the short run and will yield vast harms over the long term.” At the same time, Freyfogle argues that it is wrong to depict Trump as outside of the mainstream. Freyfogle tells us that Trump’s approach to the environment reflects pervasive cultural values about nature, individualism, markets, and scientific knowledge. “Trump’s flaws,” Freyfogle concludes, “are our flaws.”

Governmental Ethics

Kathleen Clark investigates the new administration’s approach to issues of government ethics. She examines whether Trump’s campaign promise to curtail the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C.—to, in Trump’s words, “drain the swamp—is likely to translate into new and meaningful ethical rules. So far, Clark concludes, there is little evidence of progress.


Speaking to a meeting of state governors last February, President Trump emphasized the values of federalism. He said: “We’re going to do whatever we can to restore the authority of the states when that is the appropriate thing to do.  We’re going to give you back a lot of the powers that have been taken away from states and great people and great governors.  And you can control it better than the federal government because you’re right on top of it.” Yet, in his essay, Vikram David Amar reports on the sharp increase over the past 100 days in tensions between the national government and states and their localities. He identifies as “federalism flashpoints” the administration’s insistence on state cooperation in immigration enforcement; state governmental planned refusals to do business with contractors who help build a wall with Mexico; and state efforts to condition ballot access in 2020 on disclosure of tax returns. Amar provides a framework through which to analyze these and other federalism contests that are likely to emerge in the future. Robert Mikos highlights the cleavage between federal and state laws on marijuana. As he reports, forty states have decriminalized (as a matter of state law) possession and use of marijuana in at least some circumstances, but such activities remain prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Mikos observes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ strong opposition to marijuana use raises the prospect of federal prosecutions of users and suppliers in these forty states. However, Mikos concludes, as a practical matter, the new administration is unlikely to have sufficient tools for large-scale prosecutions and that other factors are also likely to temper crackdown efforts.

International Relations and National Security

Five authors address issues of international relations and national security. Adam Chilton canvasses the gaps between Trump’s campaign statements about international institutions, treaties, human rights, and military action and Trump’s actions as president on these issues. Chilton concludes that the campaign-era promise of a full-scale assault on international law has not (or not yet) materialized. Robert Williams assesses the new administration’s approach to China. He concludes that while it is too early to tell just how that relationship is going to develop, early interactions suggest that it will be “defined by unpredictability, policy flexibility, and a bluntly transactional approach.” Lesley Wexler examines whether Trump’s professed commitment to a platform of “America First” tracks in practice his administration’s approach to the laws of war; she also discusses, separately, the lawfulness of the recent strikes on Syria and whether those strikes—launched in response to use of chemical weapons on the Syrian population—evidence a retreat from the “America First” platform. Drawing lessons from the military operations Trump has undertaken during his first 100 days in office (including the missile strikes on Syria), Jonathan Hafetz predicts that, in the future, “such actions will likely be frequent, unpredictable, and destabilizing,” and they will raise “significant legal concerns.” Bradley Williams discusses the new administration’s early energetic focus on cybersecurity threats, but he concludes that, so far, the administration has failed to form and implement a cohesive strategy to respond to this ever-present danger.