Jocelyn Benson

Jocelyn Benson

Associate Professor of Law

Jocelyn Benson

  • Biography

    Jocelyn Benson, former dean of Wayne Law, is an associate professor and was elected secretary of state of Michigan in 2018. 

    In September 2016, Benson was named CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a venture led by professional sports organizations and networks, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA and ESPN, to improve race relations in America. She also serves as a special advisor on philanthropic investments to RISE founder Stephen M. Ross.

    She stepped down as Wayne Law dean to join RISE but continues her affiliation with Wayne Law as vice chair of the Levin Center's advisory board. Under her leadership, the Law School founded the center in 2015 in honor of former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's distinguished career in public service. She served as director of the center from fall 2016 until August 2017.

    A member of the law faculty since 2005, Benson served as dean from December 2012 to September 2016, appointed first as interim dean and later to a full term as dean. At the time of her appointment as dean, at age 36, she became the youngest woman ever to lead an accredited U.S. law school.

    In October 2015, Benson was inducted into the 32nd class of the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. She is one of the youngest women inductees in the history of the hall of fame, second only to Serena Williams, a 2012 inductee.

    In April 2016, Benson earned national headlines as one of only a handful of women in history to complete the Boston Marathon in her eighth month of pregnancy.

    Crain's Detroit Business named her one of Michigan's 100 most influential women in 2016.

    Prior to serving as dean, Benson was associate director of the Law School's Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. In that capacity she created the Michigan Allies Project, an effort designed to track hate incidents throughout Michigan and provide legal support for victims.

    She has taught courses including Legislative Oversight, Race and the Law, and Sports and Inequality.

    Her areas of expertise include civil rights law, education law and election law. She has been widely quoted on those subjects in local, regional, national and international media and has written numerous book chapters and law review articles. In 2010, her book, State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process, was published. It is the first major book on the role of the secretary of state in enforcing election and campaign finance laws. That same year, she was the Democratic candidate for Michigan's secretary of state.

    Benson is founder and executive director of the nonpartisan Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. In 2011, the center hosted Michigan's first "Citizens' Redistricting Competition," providing an opportunity for Michigan residents to access software and draw their own redistricting maps for the state. Also in 2011, she was selected to serve with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the board of iCivics, a national nonprofit organization that O'Connor created to improve civics education throughout the country.

    A former member of the American Bar Association's Committee on Election Law, Benson has developed and supervised three statewide nonpartisan election protection efforts in Michigan. In 2007, she successfully blocked the unlawful closure of a secretary of state branch office in Buena Vista Township. During the 2008 election, she led an effort to block the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters' eligibility on Election Day.

    Benson is co-founder and former president of Military Spouses of Michigan.

    Prior to joining the law faculty, Benson clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a legal assistant to Nina Totenberg at National Public Radio and investigated hate groups and hate crimes for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    After earning a bachelor of arts degree from Wellesley College, she earned a master of philosophy degree as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University and her law degree from Harvard Law School.

  • Degrees and Certifications

    J.D., Harvard Law School
    M.Phil., Oxford University
    B.A., Wellesley College

  • Courses Taught

    Legislative Oversight
    Race and the Law
    Sports and Inequality

  • Selected Publications

    Law Review Articles

    The Election Assistance Commission: We Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (work in progress)

    How Serpentine Districts Became Law: Michigan Redistricting in 2011, Wayne Journal Law In Society (2011)

    A Shared Existence: The Current Compatibility of the Equal Protection Clause and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 88 Nebraska Law Journal 124 (2009)

    Voter Fraud or Voter Defrauded? Highlighting Courts: Inconsistent Approach to Election Fraud, 44 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 1 One Person, One Vote: Protecting the Franchise Through the Effective Administration of Election; Procedures 40 The Urban Lawyer 305 (2008) (lead article)

    One Person, One Vote: Protecting the Franchise Through the Effective Administration of Election Procedures, 40 The Urban Lawyer 305 (2008) (invited submission)

    Towards Full Participation: Solutions for Improvements to the Federal Language Assistance Laws, Advance, The Official Law Journal of the American Constitution Society (May 2008)

    Democracy and the Secretary: The Crucial Role of State Election Administrators in Promoting Accuracy and Access to Democracy, Saint Louis University Public Law Review (2008) (invited submission)

     Election Fraud and the Initiative Process: A Study of the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, 34 Fordham Urban Law Journal 887(2007) (invited submission).

     Su Voto Es Su Voz! Incorporating Limited English Proficient Voters into American Democracy, 48 Boston College Law Review (2007)

     Preparing for 2007: Legal and Legislative Issues Surrounding the Reauthorization of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 67 University of Pittsburgh Law Review 125 (2005).

     Note: Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Making Georgia v. Ashcroft the Mobile v. Bolden of 2007, 39 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 485 (2004)

     Book Chapters

     Expanding the Language Protections of the Voting Rights Act to Additional Communities in James Tucker, "The Battle Over Bilingual Ballots," Ashgate Publications (2009).

    Section 203: Language Minority Assistance Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 2006 in "America Votes!" American Bar Association (2008)

    Developing Uniform Standards for Partisan Involvement in Election Administration in "America Votes!" Ben Griffith, Ed. (2008)

     Representative Equality: Constituencies & Districting International Election Principles, "The Rule Of Law In Democratic Elections," American Bar Association, Jack Young, Ed. (2008)

    Voting Rights in "Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution," (David Schultz, ed.)NY: Facts on File, Inc, 2008

     Language Protections for All? Extending and Expanding the Language Protections of the Voting Rights Act in "Democracy, Participation and Power: Perspectives on Reauthorization of the Voting Rightrs Act," Berkeley Public Policy Press (2006).

  • Social Science Research Network
  • Books

    State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process (Ashgate) 2010

    Nearly a decade after the 2000 presidential elections invited a firestorm of questions about the sanctity of our democratic process, there continues to be a heightened interest in the role of state-wide elections officials, typically the state's Secretary of State. This book looks into their pivotal role in the promotion of a healthy democracy.

    Much past interest has resulted in overly critical coverage of election errors, ignoring the tireless efforts that ensure the American citizens benefit from a democratic, inclusive and accountable election process. Through a series of case studies, anecdotes, and interviews with current and recent secretaries, State Secretaries of State author Jocelyn Benson readdresses this balance by providing the first in-depth study of the Secretary's role in registering voters, enforcing voting laws and regulations, overseeing elections, and certifying results. As such, it represents a much-needed contribution to the study of U.S. elections, both in practice and in law.

  • Accomplishments
    • Jocelyn Bensonwas elected secretary of state of Michigan in the 2018 Midterm Election.