Rosenn Lecture speaker Noah Feldman on the Supreme Court’s visibility, recent cases

Christine Lee, News Editor

The Supreme Court and its future is the latest topic of the annual Max Rosenn Lecture in Law and Humanities. This year’s lecture will be given by Harvard professor, constitutional law expert, author and “Bloomberg View” columnist Noah Feldman.

Feldman was decided upon by the Rosenn Lecture committee, which is composed of law clerks of the late Judge Max Rosenn, President Leahy and two other individuals. Director of Special Events Rebecca Van Jura explained that names of potential speakers are can be suggested by anyone in the campus community but are generally suggested by the late Judge Rosenn’s law clerks. The committee will then look through the names and will choose a primary speaker and a backup speaker in case the primary speaker isn’t available on the dates proposed.

Van Jura said his name was brought to her attention through a speaker’s bureau, which represents various speakers and act as representatives for them.  Because of his background and expertise with the U.S Supreme Court and international issues, Van Jura thought he seemed perfect for the lecture.

“Noah Feldman, in particular because of his expertise with the Supreme Court seemed exceptionally interesting for us and his expertise on China and the intersection between the Middle East, politics and religion. So he is quite versed on all of those issues which are so crucial these days,” she said.

Feldman, the Bemis Professor of international law at Harvard University, will deliver his lecture on “The Supreme Court: What’s Happening Now and What the Future Holds.” In a telephone interview with The Beacon, he stressed that the U.S Supreme Court is very important on a variety of issues, regardless of whether they are major or not.

“Many of (the cases) are tremendously important but don’t make the headlines. They might be questions of the air you breathe and the water you drink, they might be questions of whether U.S. courts will deal with international human rights litigation,” he said.

Feldman said that because members of the Supreme Court are largely out of sight from the media, it can lead people to become unaware of their role in the American legal system.

“They’re never on television, they’re never on the internet, they don’t have Twitter accounts, they don’t have Facebook pages; they’re largely out of sight,” he said. “They think that they’re most effective by only appearing in the public eye when they decide an opinion.”

Feldman explained that unlike other American political institutions, information is not leaked from the Supreme Court and if there aren’t any issues they are deciding that people feel strongly about, they’re less likely to be noticed.

“They want you not to know they’re there,” he said.

On the court’s most recent cases dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage, Feldman said conventional wisdom emerged from the oral arguments that they would strike down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that states have the right to define marriage for themselves and the federal government would listen to that. For the case dealing with Proposition 8 in California, it was presumed that the court would say that it was too soon to announce a general right to same-sex marriage across the country.

However, he isn’t completely convinced of the conventional wisdom being associated with both cases. While he thinks it is probable that the court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, he isn’t he sees the case dealing with Proposition 8 as more complicated because it deals with states’ rights issues.

“Striking (an act) down on states’ rights bounds is a tricky thing to do because it could potentially create very strange legal conditions where a same-sex couple is married in one state, they’re married under federal law, then they move another state, presumably they’re still married under federal law but they’re no longer married under the local state law, it’s now going to treat them as unmarried,” Feldman explained.

He said this act would create a strange situation for the couple when it came to issues involving federal and state law such as filing taxes, going to the hospital and adoptions, it would create a situation where the couple would be in a position of being both married and unmarried at the same time. As a result, the court would be dealing with many cases involving that issue.

“The court would be inviting a lot of new cases and while that might be O.K with the court because they might think this issue needs more time before the public is ready to accept the general right to gay marriage, I think it’s possible that they’ll also think that it just will create a mess (by bringing lots of cases in),” he explained.

As for the lecture itself, Feldman wants to give context to where the Supreme Court came from in its history and where the dominant theories of constitutional interpretation come from. The lecture will be delivered April 28 at 7:30p.m. at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center and is free and open to the public. A book signing of all of Feldman’s works will occur following the lecture.

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