Tabatha Abu El-Haj is a leading expert on the First Amendment and the right of peaceable assembly. Her principal interest is in the American political process, with a focus on increasing the democratic accountability and responsiveness of government to ordinary Americans through both statutory reform and constitutional law. Her research is shaped by the conviction that American democracy must be understood as involving an array of political practices and that citizens’ role in democratic politics does not begin and end on election day—an argument introduced in her 2011 NYU Law Review article, Changing the People: Legal Regulation and American Democracy. She has thus argued that not only elections and political parties, but also public assemblies and civic associations are critical mechanisms for ensuring democratic institutions work for the public. In the summer of 2020, her scholarship on the right of assembly was highlighted in Slate and The Atlantic.
Professor Abu El-Haj’s publications include Networking the Party: First Amendment Rights & the Pursuit of Responsive Party Government, appeared in the spring 2018 issue of the Columbia Law Review. Prior publications include “The Neglected Right of Assembly,” in the UCLA Law Review and “Beyond Campaign Finance Reform, in the Boston College Law Review. Shorter pieces by Professor Abu El-Haj include “Public Unions Under First Amendment Fire,” in the Washington University Law Review, “‘Live Free or Die’ – Liberty and the First Amendment,” in the Ohio State Law Journal, and “Defining Peaceably: Policing the Line Between Constitutionally Protected Protest and Unlawful Assembly,” in the Missouri Law Review.
She is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, which published her 2018 policy brief “Why Strengthening Citizen Ties – Not Unleashing Big Donors – is the Way to Revitalize U.S. Political Parties” and invited her to speak about power in politics on its “No Jargon” podcast. Her work on campaign finance has also appeared in Purchasing Power: The Brennan Center’s Money in Politics Blog and The Hill.
Students chose her to receive the inaugural Dean Roger J. Dennis Distinction in Teaching Award in 2019.
Professor Abu El-Haj received her doctorate in Law and Society from New York University. Her dissertation, “Changing the People: Transformations in American Democracy (1880-1930),” documents the rise of municipal ordinances requiring permits for public assemblies and argues that American democracy was fundamentally transformed in the 20th century as the nature of state regulation of democratic politics changed. She received her JD from New York University School of Law, where she was a Furman Fellow and graduated Order of the Coif. In 2005-2006, Professor Abu El-Haj clerked for the Honorable Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.