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Sen. Josh Hawley has made waves with his call for Republican senators to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory and force Congress to vote Wednesday on whether to accept the Electoral College results. I invite Sen. Hawley to reconsider his misguided position and, instead, to do what I did when I lost an election to no other than him: Show grace in defeat. The principle is the same whether the election is for president of the United States or, as with us, for president of a campus club.
Sen. Hawley, R-Mo., and I were both members of the Yale Law School Class of 2006. While we had our differences, we shared a common bond through our joint participation in the school’s fairly small Federalist Society, made up of mostly conservative and libertarian law students.
At the end of our first year, we were both elected as vice presidents for events of the YLS Federalist Society. Collaborating in these positions in our second year proved difficult. I organized the lion's share of the group’s events and frequently received no responses from him on emails I sent to him and the society’s president that year. This puzzled me because I thought our goal was to make the organization as strong as possible, and failure to communicate was an obstacle.
Good at marketing and promotion
This isn’t to say that Sen. Hawley didn’t have his qualities as a vice president. For example, his marketing skills certainly contributed to strong turnout at an event with the late Harvard Law School professor William Stuntz. While I did more work that year, Sen. Hawley knew better how to shine the spotlight on his contributions, which is an important skill in the political arena.
The YLS Federalist Society’s presidential election started rolling around the spring of our second year, in 2005, and it was traditional for one of the two VPs for events to assume that role. Sen. Hawley and I each announced our candidacies. Shortly before the election, a friend tipped me off to how Sen. Hawley was planning to beat me, given that he was uncertain he could do so based on votes only from regular members who knew our records best.
As appeared accurate based on the eventual turnout, Sen. Hawley had obtained from the sitting president the student email addresses for the YLS Federalist Society Listserv (and the president, whom I had helped to win the previous year, did not volunteer that information to me at that stage). The rule was that anyone who had signed up for the Listserv by a certain earlier date could vote in the society’s elections. This included a bunch of people who did not attend events and had little or no involvement with the society.
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The rule, while easy to administer, was a bad one. It even had the potential for individuals to co-opt the society for the sole purpose of destroying it. Historically, however, nobody had exploited that rule, to my knowledge. Instead, candidates had campaigned for votes from people actively involved with the society.
I found out about Sen. Hawley’s plans too late to counter them successfully. I lost the YLS Federalist Society’s presidential election to him by a handful of votes. The presidency comes with a number of advantages, including entry to key professional opportunities. From my perspective, I was the more deserving candidate and cared more about the organization. The voting rules, again, were problematic, and Sen. Hawley exploited that all the way to victory for himself and the rest of his slate.
The rules were the rules, flawed or not
But you know what? As far as electoral fairness is concerned, none of that matters. The rules were the rules. The people who showed up to vote had the right to vote. I have no reason to believe that the person who counted the votes miscounted. Based on the system we had, which — while flawed — was hardly unethical, Sen. Hawley won and I lost. And not once did I attempt to contest that loss.
Sen. Hawley and I both ended up initially as law professors, but then our paths split. He pursued political offices while I remained in academia (though also continued my own political activism). And while he has been one of President Donald Trump’s loyalists, I have been the opposite, from my membership in Checks & Balances (a group of lawyers and academics committed to the Constitution and the rule of law) to my volunteer work for the Biden campaign in 2020.
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Of course, the stakes are much higher when it comes to the presidency of the United States than that of the Yale Law School Federalist Society. Conversely, however, maintaining the integrity of the democratic system of our country vastly trumps doing so for a law school club. While Sen. Hawley is unlikely to succeed in his bid to hinder Biden from taking office, he is setting a dangerous precedent such that one day, a hostile Congress could overturn a rightful presidential election.
The courts have ruled repeatedly that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Some speculate that Sen. Hawley is simply posturing to position himself for his own presidential run someday. Even if this provided ethical cover for his actions (spoiler: it doesn’t), he has the intelligence to find better tactics than eroding our democratic system.
Irina D. Manta is professor of law and founding director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law at Hofstra University's Maurice A. Deane School of Law. Follow her on Twitter: @irina_manta
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump lost and Hawley should accept the result, like I did against him