Minnesota Law

Spring 2024
Faculty Focus

Theory at Work: A Transparent Approach

Professor Jill Hasday displays rare gift for translating complicated legal issues for the general public

Professor Jill Hasday, Centennial Professor of Law and Distinguished McKnight University Professor
Illustrator: Nigel Buchanan

Jill Hasday, Centennial Professor of Law and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, is a renowned teacher and scholar in the academic world, but her talent for helping a wider public understand complex issues related to anti-discrimination law, constitutional law, family law, and legal history has also made her a media favorite. 

“I have done more press in the last two years than in the previous five,” says Hasday, who joined the Law School in 2005. “It mainly involves responding to and explaining bad news, because usually the media calls when something terrible has happened.” Whether the topic is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, or legal disputes stemming from the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol, or pay discrimination, women’s exclusion from military registration, or the right to sue an intimate partner, Hasday has the background and tenacity to analyze and help others understand the issue at hand. “I am really committed to public education,” she says. 

“Some people are inspiring speakers who are good at talking points, and some are really wonky, citing court cases,” says Rebecca Lucero ’07, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Hasday’s former student. “Jill can do both. It’s a rare gift.” 

Hasday and Lucero collaborated closely on Minnesota’s Preventing Pay Discrimination Act, testing hypotheticals and wrestling with the nuances of the act, which went into effect in January. “Jill has the ability to give clear examples to the media and the legislature, to show not only the implications of a bill but also the unintended consequences,” says Lucero. “She is so generous with her time, not just in public conversations but actually behind the scenes. I always had complete faith that we would find the right path forward, aligned with the values of what we were trying to do.” 

Hasday says she based her choice to focus on discrimination on her lived experience as a woman in the world. Despite having no academics in her family, she decided at age 17 that becoming a law professor would suit her. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is exactly what I want to do,’” she says. “I wanted to be an intellectual, to research, read, write, and control my own agenda.” 

The history major earned undergraduate and J.D. degrees at Yale. Her future as an anti-discrimination scholar became clear halfway through law school when she decided she wanted to teach family law and constitutional law because so many disputes about discrimination and inequality arise in those arenas. 

Eliminating sex discrimination in the military is one rocky path Hasday has traversed. In 1981, when other explicitly sex-based laws were collapsing, the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold male-only military registration was an outlier, more of a nod to public opinion than a strict legal interpretation. Questions about the constitutionality of male-only registration arose again after the military opened all combat positions to women at the start of 2016. 

A blue-ribbon commission established by Congress asked Hasday to testify. She explained, “Women’s exclusion from registration has always reflected and reinforced the assumption that women belong at home, which is not a constitutionally valid reason for assigning different legal responsibilities to women and men.” The commission’s 2020 report recommended sex-neutral registration, but progress has stalled since then. “Congress is going to have to face this problem eventually,” she says. “Once lawmakers either end registration or include women, it will seem bizarre that male-only registration persisted for so long.” 

Hasday again bucked tradition when, in 2019, Oxford University Press published her Intimate Lies and the Law, which won the Scribes Book Award for “the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year” and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Family and Relationships. 

“My book is about deception in dating, sex, marriage, and family life, and the law’s response to this duplicity, which is usually to deny remedies to deceived intimates and protect their deceivers,” says Hasday. “Almost everyone has experienced, committed, or gossiped about intimate deception, but the subject has received remarkably little attention from legal scholars. I want to give deceived intimates access to the same legal remedies they would have if equivalently deceived outside of intimacy. I also think the law should work to counter the incentives to deceive and should look for opportunities to thwart deceitful intimates from carrying out their plans.” 

Change “is a slow road,” Hasday adds. “Convincing courts and legislatures to alter their approach to intimate deception will not happen overnight. But recognizing the need for reform is the first step.” 

Hasday is also working with ERA Minnesota to get an Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution on the ballot. Promoting pay transparency and protecting employees from retaliation for discussing pay are on her list as well. “Much more can be done to improve Minnesota employment law,” she says. She intends to keep speaking out on these issues and is committed to helping the public understand their importance and implications.