Harvard’s Noah Feldman to discuss free speech, social media platforms

To Noah Feldman, the overturning of Roe v. Wade represents a cataclysmic shift in modern politics.

“When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it repudiated the very idea that America’s highest court exists to protect people’s fundamental liberties from legislative majorities that would infringe on them,” wrote Feldman, a historian, author of 10 books, and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in an Bloomberg opinion piecetitled, “Ending Roe Is Institutional Suicide for Supreme Court.”

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday, July 14, in the Amphitheater, Feldman will give a lecture focused on free speech, Big Tech and social media platforms. Feldman’s presentation falls under the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Three theme, “The Future of Human Rights.”

For Bloomberg, he wrote that the recent ruling, a “catastrophe for women,” also represents a tyranny of the majority. 

“The right to an abortion was based on the principle of a living Constitution that evolves to expand liberty and equality,” he wrote. “That same master principle of modern constitutional law provided the grounding for Brown v. Board of Education, ending segregation. It was the basis for Obergefell v. Hodges, finding a right to same-sex marriage.”

Feldman described the Supreme Court’s decision as an act of “institutional suicide” for the court as a whole.

“The legitimacy of the modern court depends on its capacity to protect the vulnerable by limiting how the majority can infringe on basic rights to liberty and equality,” he wrote.

Within the context of the week’s theme, Feldman will relate human rights to free expression, Big Tech and social media. 

“With how we were framing this week, considering the future of human rights, we invited Noah Feldman — one of the great legal scholars of our time — to be thinking about social media platforms from an ethics and human rights perspective,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

According to Ewalt, Feldman, who played a role in creating Facebook’s oversight board, will be speaking primarily on the issue of free speech. 

“He’ll be speaking about it both in the ways social media platforms have helped us communicate with each other,” he said. “But perhaps most importantly, Feldman will talk about the potential risks and dangers that that technology creates, and really connect it to the larger human rights issues and challenges.”

It’s a topic that Ewalt said he hopes will act like a lens for Chautauquans to be “more critical consumers” of social media platforms. 

“The very questions we need to be asking ourselves are about better understanding the consequences of using these platforms,” he said. “And we need to not take for granted the role of these platforms within our larger consideration of human rights challenges.”

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The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.