fb-pixel Skip to main content

Meet Noah Feldman, the Harvard professor testifying before the Judiciary Committee

Constitutional law expert Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, arrived to testify during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Noah Feldman literally wrote the book on constitutional law.

The Harvard Law School professor, who will be one of four academics testifying Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee as it probes the legal grounds for impeaching President Trump, coauthored the textbook “Constitutional Law.”

But that is only the tip of the iceberg of the prolific writing of the prominent public intellectual. He coauthored another textbook, on the First Amendment, as well as seven other nonfiction books that covered topics ranging from President James Madison to America’s “church-state problem” to the rise and fall of the Islamic State.

The Boston native is also a Bloomberg News opinion columnist and hosts a podcast called “Deep Background.” He has contributed to the New York Times magazine and New York Review of Books. And he does not shy away from various media appearances.


“Noah is a brilliant and charismatic professor with a lightning-fast mind and ability to express his vast knowledge in lively and accessible terms,” said Kathleen Sullivan, a former dean of Stanford Law School and former Harvard Law professor, who co-authored the textbooks with Feldman.

“He is not only a gifted scholar and adored teacher but also a public intellectual who makes influential comments on the most pressing legal issues of the day,” Sullivan, who is now an appellate litigator in private practice, said in an e-mail.

Feldman “specializes in constitutional studies, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, free speech, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory,” according to the Harvard Law website.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University in 1992, he was selected as a Rhodes scholar and earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Oxford University in 1994. He received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1997, according to the Harvard website.


He clerked for a District of Columbia Appeals Court judge as well as for Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Before joining the Harvard faculty, he was a law professor at New York University School of Law.

When he left NYU for Harvard in 2007, Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law at the time (she is now a Supreme Court justice), hailed him as one of the “stars of his generation.” He had been dubbed “Most Beautiful Brainiac” by New York magazine during his time in that city. Esquire in 2008 called him “a public intellectual for our time.”

The New York Times reported at the time that questions were being raised about Feldman’s youth — he was 32 at the time — but a consensus was emerging that, because of his studies in Islamic thought at Oxford and in constitutional law, he was a good choice.

Feldman grew up in Boston as an Orthodox Jew. He learned Hebrew and Aramaic to read the ancient and medieval texts taught at the Maimonides School, a private Jewish school in Brookline. He then started studying Arabic at 15 in summer school, the Times reported.

His interest in the law came after his interest in Islam. His expertise in the two fields suddenly became especially valuable after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Times reported.

In 2003, he brought his legal skills to bear in a turbulent situation, serving as senior constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and subsequently advising members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law, or interim constitution, according to the Harvard Law website.


So, what might Feldman say to the committee Wednesday?

In a PBS-TV interview in late October with Walter Isaacson, Feldman may have given some clues. He said he felt President Trump’s pressuring Ukraine for a political benefit was an impeachable offense.

“To me, the abuse of power is the thing that the Constitution says that the president should be impeached for,” he said. “And you define ‘abuse of power’ by the idea that the president is doing something that’s within his constitutional authority, it’s within his power, like putting pressure on a foreign government, but he’s doing it not to serve the interests of the United States but to serve his personal interest and the interest of getting reelected. And that’s, to my mind, very clearly what’s going on.”

“What matters is the president is overtly saying to Ukraine, ‘Do these investigations,’ and the only party who can benefit from those investigations is Donald Trump,” Feldman said.

He said he felt it was also an impeachable offense when Trump later issued a similar call publicly to China.

“That’s also openly calling on a foreign state to help the president get reelected not to serve the interests of the United States as a republic. That’s the textbook definition of an abuse of power,” he said.


The other expert witnesses are Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School.

Feldman, Karlan, and Gerhardt are being called to testify by Democrats, while Turley was selected by the committee’s Republican members.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.