Disputed election fueled Prof. Hasen's specialty


Rex Bossert

The first thing visible in Professor Rick Hasen's office on the third floor of the UCI School of Law is a voting booth just inside the door - one from Florida actually used during the hotly contested presidential election of 2000.

That's because election law, Hasen’s primary field of expertise, took off with that election, he explains, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order a recount in Florida, and George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by a narrow margin. "In 2000, the area exploded," Hasen says. "Most major law schools now have someone in the field and there are competing textbooks."

In fact, it exploded to a great extent with Hasen's help. In 2001, he became founding co-editor of the quarterly, peer-reviewed Election Law Journal, along with UCLA Professor Daniel Lowenstein.

Two years later, Hasen started his influential Election Law Blog after he had been maintaining an email listserv to help people in his field keep abreast of the latest developments. Hasen at the time had seen Howard Bashman's popular appellate law blog, How Appealing, and thought to himself, "This is great, and I am already doing the same thing by email."

The Election Law Blog, on which Hasen estimates he has posted 20,000 items so far, also allowed him to reach a much wider audience, and it is often consulted not only by politicians, lawyers, judges and members of the public, but also by journalists nationwide, who quote him in such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. (In fact, a June 2 New York Times editorial credits Hasen's blog for persuading a federal judge to reconsider a key ruling after Hasen's post pointed out that the ruling overlooked an important precedent.)

Also in 2003, the California recall election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated Gray Davis for governor was a "huge boost" for his field, Hasen says. That's also the year he published his influential book, The Supreme Court and Election Law: Judging Equality from Baker v. Carr to Bush v. Gore.

The following year, Hasen co-authored the influential casebook, Election Law, along with UCLA's Lowenstein. Though Hasen has worked closely with Lowenstein over the years, he is more than just a colleague - he was Hasen's mentor in the field. Hasen first got interested in election law while a graduate student in political science at UCLA, when he took Lowenstein's election law class. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a bachelor's in Middle Eastern studies, Hasen had started graduate school studying Middle Eastern politics, but found the field "depressing" because of all the conflicts and strife in that part of the world. Under Lowenstein's influence, Hasen eventually decided to pursue a law degree as well as finish his Ph.D. in political science, focusing his dissertation on law and economics, including a chapter on election law.

"It has been something of an accident," Hasen says of his discovery of the field.

When Hasen first began teaching, he used Lowenstein's election law casebook in his class, and later wrote a positive review of it. Lowenstein then invited Hasen to co-author the second edition of the casebook, which is now in its fourth edition (and also co-edited by Professor Dan Tokaji of Ohio State), and has spawned teacher's manuals and supplements. "We have an election law empire," Hasen quips.

In addition to election law, Hasen teaches legislation, remedies and torts, and has also written books on the latter two subjects. He describes the first course he taught at UCI Law - a 42-student first-year class called Common Law Analysis: Public Ordering (Torts)- as "one of the best teaching experiences I have ever had."

"I love teaching in the first year," he says. "You see a student get it and the light bulb goes on."

Hasen joins the UCI Law faculty full-time in July from Loyola Law School, where he was named the William H. Hannon Distinguished Professor of Law in 2005. One thing that most appealed to him about coming to UCI was the possibility of doing interdisciplinary work bringing together political science and law on the campus of a major research university, where he can also teach undergraduates. "I'm just so happy to be on a university campus," he says.

And the law faculty at UCI Law was also a special draw, he says. "This is a world-class faculty, smart and engaged."

The idea of coming to a new school such as UCI Law was also appealing to Hasen because "things are not set in stone." Although he says he is too new to know yet what innovations he would like to pursue, he eventually would like to see the law school develop a legislative clinic where students could learn to draft bills. He also wants to hold an election law conference in a year or so, and he's hosting a Supreme Court Review on July 13 featuring Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, David Savage of the Los Angeles Times, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate (where Hasen often writes on election law), Laurie Levenson of Loyola, and former Chapman Law School dean, now professor, John Eastman.

Hasen joined the Loyola faculty full-time in 1998 after stints as a visiting professor there and at UCLA. Before that, he taught at the Chicago-Kent College of Law from 1994 to 1998. Prior to that he worked as a civil appellate attorney for an Encino firm after a stint as a clerk for Judge David R. Thompson of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

More recently, Hasen has started work on his latest book, tentatively titled The Voting Wars, which he intends to finish before the 2012 presidential election. Elaborating on the book's theme, he says things have gotten even worse since the 2000 election because the voting booth technology has not improved much, various jurisdictions have different laws and procedures for voting, and the political landscape is even more polarized now than it was over a decade ago, with party operatives often occupying key roles as election officials.

"It's the gift that keeps on giving because election law is so messed up," he says. "We have bad voting machines, we are hyper-localized and partisan."