GWorks Interviews: Richard L. Hasen

In this four-part interview, Richard L. Hasen discusses understanding the Supreme Court, especially through election law and the problem of money in politics. Mr Hasen is the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and author of the new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections (Yale University Press, 12 January 2016).

“It’s really a fundamental divide between two different world views over what the effects of money in politics are and what the biggest risk is. So to conservatives, the biggest risk is censorship and squelching political speech. To the liberals, the concerns are, I think, both corruption and domination of the process by wealthy individuals and corporations.”

Part One: Obsessive

Professor Hasen discusses coming to study election law; the value of social science to law—election law in particular; the personal appeal of election law; and assessing the extent and causes of increased political polarization in the United States.

Part Two: The Defining Problem

Understanding that money in politics presents a problem of equality of participation—not “corruption”; the role the Supreme Court has played—in particular with its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo—putting “corruption”—especially in its restricted sense as quid pro quo corruption—at the center of and thereby “truncating” the campaign finance debate.

Part Three: The Set-up

The Supreme Court as the “ultimate political regulator” in American constitutional democracy; the existence and effect of political and ideological polarization on the Supreme Court; how electoral politics and the Supreme Court nominations process reflect one another; how the Justices—particularly Justice Anthony M. Kennedy—view money in politics; and how the only way to change the campaign finance status quo is to change the composition of the Supreme Court.

Part Four: Immediacy

Why the Supreme Court’s process, language, timeframes and absence from television makes it difficult to understand what the Court does, how it reflects our politics and its central role in elections; the Court’s limited grasp of social science evidence; and what can be done—disclosure, stronger prohibitions on coordination, defending existing laws, and public and small donor financing of campaigns—about money in politics given the limits of existing constitutional understandings. But, in the end, it will take a Court the members of which see a “new balance” of equality of political participation and freedom of speech.