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August 31, 2005

Does It Matter What the Constitution Says? Discussion at Smith College

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—In commemoration of the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution, a pair of legal scholars will discuss how differing philosophies of interpretation continue to spark intense controversy more than two centuries later.

The talk, “Does it Matter What the Constitution Says? Enumerated Rights, Unenumerated Rights and Judicial Philosophies,” will be held at 3 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, in the Neilson Library Browsing Room. It is free and open to the public.

Smith Associate Professor of Government Marc Lendler, who teaches courses on the First Amendment, will introduce speakers Samuel Stonefield, professor of law, and Jennifer Levi, assistant professor of law, at Western New England College (WNEC) School of Law.

Discussion will focus on a perennial question in constitutional interpretation, according to Alice Hearst, Smith associate professor of government: To what extent does the text of the Constitution provide guidance for understanding the kinds of rights we hold as Americans?

“This discussion is quite timely, given that judicial philosophies about how to interpret the Constitution intimately shape constitutional decision making,” said Hearst. During the upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts “many of the questions Judge Roberts is likely to be asked will be attempts to probe his basic philosophy of interpretation.”

Stonefield, an associate dean for external affairs at WNEC School of Law, specializes in employment discrimination and the federal courts. As commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination from 1977 to 1981, Stonefield was responsible for the litigation and adjudication of employment and housing discrimination cases and oversight of the implementation of affirmative action programs in state agencies and cities and towns.

Prior to joining the faculty at WNEC School of Law, Levi served as a senior staff attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston, where she litigated cases involving civil rights violations and claims. In addition to working in private practice at several points throughout her career, Levi held an academic appointment at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she taught business organizations, poverty law and legal research.

The Five College event is sponsored by the Smith College Office of the Provost and the Five College Deans and is held in observance of a new federal law requiring colleges and universities to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution with educational programs.

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