UCI Law Launches New Fair Elections and Free Speech Center



Directed by Rick Hasen and David Kaye, the Center will be a driving force to ensure fair elections, vibrant and free debate, and the rule of law in the digital age in the United States and around the world 

IRVINE, Calif. (July 20, 2021) — The University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) is delighted to announce the launch of the new Fair Elections and Free Speech Center. The Center is dedicated to advancing an understanding of, and offering means to counter, threats to the stability and legitimacy of democratic governments exacerbated by the unregulated growth of digital media and other technological changes in mass communication. The urgency of a Center of this quality became clear after the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections, which culminated in the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the United States Capitol, and a flurry of assaults on democratic elections worldwide in recent years.

UCI Law professors Rick Hasen and David Kaye will direct the Center. Prof. Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, founder of the Election Law Blog, and a renowned leader and expert on elections, free speech, and rule of law issues in the United States. Prof. Kaye, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Justice Clinic at UCI Law and a preeminent voice on issues of international human rights, global freedom of expression, and the regulation of online content by social media and search companies is the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and speech (2014-2020).

“I can’t think of a more important time than now, and two better suited experts in their respective fields, to launch and lead this urgent and timely center,” said Howard Gillman, Chancellor and Professor of Political Science and Law at UCI. “American Democracy is at stake -- that became abundantly clear in the wake of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Focused ongoing efforts are vital.”

“American democracy is under increasing strain, and the 2020 election exacerbated threats to the rule of law and to public confidence in fair elections,” said Prof. Hasen. “Much of that is thanks to the rise of social media. The new Center will look at what’s wrong, and what can be done, to strengthen democratic institutions in the U.S. and around the world.”

Fundamental to the Center’s work is a belief and understanding that free speech is essential to vibrant elections, fair competition, and democratic deliberation and that it also has the potential to serve as a tool for undermining fair elections and voter confidence in such elections. Under the leadership of Profs. Hasen and Kaye, the Center examines key issues at both the domestic and the global levels, identifying and supporting scholarship of value. It will be a driving force for ensuring fair elections, vibrant and free debate, and the rule of the law in the digital age. The Center will facilitate deep scholarship on American law, politics, and democracy as well as on global norms and institutions.

The Center will host important and engaging discussions, speaker series, conferences and much more. Among the speakers at the first events are Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger, a Republican, and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. Upcoming events include:

  • Sept. 1, 2021: The first of its three-part lunch series on “Global Elections,” exploring disinformation, digital media and threats to fair elections and open debate worldwide.
  • Sept. 9, 2021: “Is the U.S. Constitution Up to the Task of Preserving American Democracy?”
  • Sept. 24, 2021: An online conference on “Election Subversion: Is American Democracy in Danger?” 
  • Oct. 6, 2021: The first of its three-part lunch series on “Disinformation in Elections: How Big a Problem is it and What Should Be Done?”

“We are launching the Center at a moment when democratic participation is under attack not only in the United States but worldwide,” said Prof. Kaye. “In addition to a domestic focus rooted in the fundamentals of American law, we will bring a global perspective, using human rights norms to research and advocate for freedom of expression and public participation as central pillars of democratic societies.”

In keeping with the interdisciplinary approach within the University of California, the Center will engage myriad disciplines to solve the multifaceted problems, including law, politics, technology and media, among others. Freedom of speech is an indispensable part of the fabric of the mission of both UCI and UC, including the mission of the UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, directed from UCI and Washington, D.C.

The Fair Elections and Free Speech Center will actively engage scholars, technologists, students, stakeholders, legislators and the broader public toward the development of practical solutions to actionable issues. UCI Law students will participate in the Center’s work through research for reports, the filing of briefs, and supporting cross-disciplinary and transnational research and dialogue. The Center will fulfill a dual mission of public education and public service.

“True to UCI Law and UCI’s nature, the Center will emphasize collaboration and interdisciplinary connections across the university both in teaching and in research,” said Bryant Garth, Interim Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at UCI Law. “The law school is proud to be leading the charge and playing an integral role in such an important arena.”

The Center became a reality, in part thanks to former Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law at UCI Law, L. Song Richardson, who is on the Center’s Advisory Board. She is joined by an extraordinary group of U.S. and global scholars who bolster its mission and prominence, including:

  •  Floyd Abrams, Senior Counsel at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
  • Aziza Ahmed, Professor of Law at UCI Law 
  • Chinmayi Arun, Resident Fellow, Information Society Project at Yale Law School
  • Swethaa Ballakrishnen, Assistant Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Dan L. Burk, Chancellor's Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Guy-Uriel Charles, Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law at Berkeley Law
  • Danielle K. Citron, Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenck Distinguished Professor in Law at University of Virginia
  • Julie Cohen, Mark Claster Mamolen Professor of Law and Technology at Georgetown Law
  • Louis DeSipio, Professor of Political Science and Chicano/Latino Studies at UC Irvine
  • Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University
  • Renée DiResta, Technical Research Manager, Stanford Internet Observatory at Stanford University
  • Joan Donovan, Research Director, The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School
  • evelyn douek, Lecturer on Law and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
  • Paul Dourish, Chancellor's Professor of Informatics at UC Irvine
  • Pam Fessler, former NPR Voting Rights Correspondent 
  • Edward B. Foley, Professor and Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law at Ohio State University
  • Sara Wallace Goodman, Associate Professor of Political Science at UC Irvine
  • Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Chancellor's Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Kaaryn Gustafson, Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Elizabeth Howard, Senior Counsel at Democracy Brennan Center for Justice
  • Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at Oxford University
  • Claire Jean Kim, Professor of Political Science and Asian American Studies at UC Irvine
  • Kate Klonick, Assistant Professor of Law at St. John’s University
  • Jack I. Lerner, Clinical Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Michael T. Morley, Associate Professor of Law at Florida State University
  • Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
  • Brendan Nyhan, Professor of Government at Dartmouth College
  • Cailin O’Connor, Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at UC Irvine
  • Norman J. Ornstein, Emeritus Scholar at American Enterprise Institute
  • Kyung Sin “KS” Park, Professor of Law and Executive Director of the American Law Center at Korea University School of Law
  • Nathaniel Persily, James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School
  • Kavita Philip, Professor of English (and, by affiliation, Geography) at UBC; Professor of History (and by courtesy, Informatics) at UC Irvine
  • Richard H. Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU Law
  • L. Song Richardson, President at Colorado College 
  • Bertrall Ross, Professor of Law at UVA Law School (beginning fall 2021)
  • Marietje Schaake, President, Cyber Peace Institute and International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University
  • Gregory Shaffer, Chancellor's Professor of Law at UCI Law
  • Alex Stamos, Director, Stanford Internet Observatory at Stanford University
  • Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT
  • Emerson Sykes, Staff Attorney, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project American Civil Liberties Union
  • Michael Tesler, Associate Professor of Political Science at UC Irvine
  • Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor's Professor of History at UC Irvine
  • James Owen Weatherall, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at UC Irvine
  • Amy Wilentz, Author and Professor of English (Literary Journalism) at UC Irvine 

Please note: Affiliations are for identification purposes only; views of the center may not represent views of the Advisory Board.

More About Richard L. Hasen

A nationally recognized election law and politics expert, Rick Hasen was an Election Law Analyst on CNN during and after the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Earlier that year, he published a book, Election Meltdown (Yale University Press) explaining the reasons for declining public confidence in the integrity of the American election system. He also convened an ad hoc committee made up of a diverse group of leading scholars and thinkers to consider multifaceted solutions to assure the legitimacy and acceptance of the 2020 election results. The Committee issued a report with 14 recommendations in the field of law, media, tech, and politics in April 2020 called: Fair Elections During a Crisis: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics and to Advance the Legitimacy of, and the Public’s Confidence in, the November 2020 U.S. Elections. In 2022, Yale University Press will publish his new book, Cheap Speech, on issues related to the Center’s mission.

Professor Hasen’s election-related commentary has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, through his Election Law Blog (since 2003) and on Twitter (83,000 twitter followers), reaching millions of people during 2020. He also gave hundreds of interviews to newspapers, news websites, and television and radio stations throughout the world, including appearances on PBS and NPR.

More About David Kaye

David Kaye’s 2019 book, Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet (Columbia Global Reports), explores the ways in which companies, governments and activists struggle to define the rules for online expression. Appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014, Professor Kaye served through July 2020 as the global body’s principal monitor for freedom of expression issues worldwide. He reported to the UN on COVID-19 and freedom of expression and, in 2019, to the UN General Assembly on online hate speech.

His earlier reporting addressed, among other topics, the ways in which Artificial Intelligence technologies implicate human rights issues, the global private surveillance industry and its impact on freedom of expression, growing repression of freedom of expression globally, encryption and anonymity as promoters of freedom of expression, the protection of whistleblowers and journalistic sources, the roles and responsibilities of private Internet companies, and the regulation of online content by social media and search companies. Together with the regional monitors of freedom of expression in Europe (OSCE), the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, he joined six Joint Declarations on major contemporary challenges for free expression and independent media worldwide.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a visionary law school that provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 123,000 hours of pro bono work since 2009. Forty-seven percent of UCI Law’s J.D. graduates are people of color. At UCI Law, we are driven to improve our local, national, and global communities by grappling with important issues as scholars, as practitioners, and as teachers who are preparing the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, engaged alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Please follow us on Twitter @UCILaw and Facebook @UCIrvineLaw. 

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