WCDU hosts debate on free speech and the Internet

“Should the government regulate speech on the Internet?” will be the topic of debate of the Williams College Debate Union on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The debate, will feature Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union and professor of law at New York Law School, and former U.S. attorney general Edwin Meese. It will be held at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall on the Williams campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The emergence of the Internet as a major form of social interaction and information exchange has forced society to reexamine the values and limitations of freedom of speech. The redefinition of the relationship between the rights of the individual and the good of the community in cyberspace will be one of the foremost challenges to constitutional law in the 21st century. While liberals and libertarians argue that the Internet in no way changes the protection of speech afforded by the First Amendment, there are those who believe that the incredible ease with which information can be accessed online calls into question the traditional arguments for such protection.

The proposition team will feature Meese, Associate Professor of Political Science James Mahon, and Brian Elieson ’97. They will argue that the government can and should regulate offensive speech such as pornography on the Internet.

Meese, who served as the 75th attorney general of the United States from 1985-88, holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation and is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Before becoming attorney general, Meese was President Ronald Reagan’s chief policy adviser and a member of the Cabinet and the National Security Council. He was executive assistant and chief of staff during Reagan’s tenure as governor of California.

Mahon specializes in comparative politics and Latin America, and is the author of Mobile Capital and Latin American Development. He has written numerous articles on political economy and comparative social inquiry for such publications as The Journal of Development Studies and The American Political Science Review. Mahon’s work has been sponsored by grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Institute for the Study of World Politics, and the Oakley Center for Humanities and Social Sciences. His received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1977 and his Ph.D. in political science in 1989 from the University of California, Berkeley.

Elieson was president of the Williams College Debate Team from 1994-1995, and was a quarterfinalist at the 1997 American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) North American Championships. He is a research associate at McKinsey & Co. in New York City. Elieson holds a B.A. in mathematics from Williams.

The opposition team will feature Strossen, Assistant Professor of Political Science Mark Reinhardt, and Amanda Amert ’97. They will argue that government regulation of speech on the Internet constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.

Strossen has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties, and international human rights. In 1991, she was elected president of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to hold that position. Strossen was listed among the “350 Women Who Changed the World 1976-1996” by Working Woman Magazine and has twice been named one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by The National Law Journal. She is the author of Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights, a New York Times “notable book” of 1995, and the co-author of Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

Reinhardt, who specializes in political theory, is the author of The Art of Being Free: Taking Liberties with Tocqueville, Marx, and Arendt. He is currently working on his second book, Fugitive Identities: The Strange Case of Margaret Garner, which examines the contentious legal and political struggle over the fate of a fugitive slave who killed her daughter rather than see her returned to slavery. Reinhardt’s work has been supported by several fellowships, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences. He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1983 and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1991.

Amert was president of the Williams College Debate Team from 1996-97, and was, along with Chris Willenken ’97, on the 1997 APDA Team of the Year and a semifinalist at the 1997 APDA National Championships. The Judging Director of the 1998 APDA National Championships, Amert is a law student at Duke University.

This debate is the fourth in the history of the Williams College Debate Union. The union was formed last year by four Williams students to increase discussion and debate of public affairs on campus.

This event is sponsored by the President’s Office and the Gargoyle Society.