Charles Nesson

Harvard Law School


Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Email Professor Nesson [ ]
617 495-4609
5 Hubbard Park Rd.
Cambridge MA. 02138

Book: A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr
Movie: My Cousin Vinny
Album: Void Dweller, by Eon

As an undergraduate at Harvard, class of '60 [ ], I took a course on the Univac One, 1958. The final assignment was to program the machine to sort a list or words alphabetically . This was before silicon chips and computer language. The Univac was built with stacks of vacuum tubes that occupied a large room and looked just like the stacks in a library, except the shelves were filled with vacuum tubes instead of books. We controlled the machine from a separate control room that looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. We wrote our instructions to the machine in strings of one's and zero's. For our exam, we had twenty minutes at the controls to debug our program and run it on a test list. Our grade depended, first, on whether our program worked, and then, second, on our program's elegance, measured by the time our program took to sort the list.

My next real engagement with computers came in 1981, when, on my first sabbatical, I moved my family to the seashore of Long Island, accompanied by one of the first edition IBM PC's. In my spare time there I wrote a computer program in BASIC that played an excellent game of five-card draw jacks-or-better poker, the rights to which I sold for a pile of money to a company which, I am sad to say, was subsequently indicted for manufacturing illegal gambling equipment. The BASIC language, circa 1981, included the word "SORT" among its verbs. Coming upon it was like meeting an old friend, now part of a whole useful language built of ones and zeros. If I could make a word from digits, and a generation later use such words to program a computer that could bluff me out, then, perhaps in a future generation, I would be able to use the power of the new language to liven up my classes.

Professor Charles R. Nesson


 Harvard College: A.B. 1960

 Harvard Law School: J.D. 1963

  •  Sears Prize (twice)
  •  Summa Cum Laude
  •  Fay Diploma

 William F. Weld Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Prior Experience

 Clerk to Mr. Justice Harlan on the United States Supreme Court, 1965 Term

 Special Assistant, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice

Harvard Activities

 Joined Harvard Law School Faculty in 1966, tenured in 1969

 Associate Dean, 1979-1982

 Organizer and President of the Lawyers' Military Defense Committee, 1969-1972

 Director of Harvard Evidence Film Project, 1974-1979

 Specialty Course: Evidence

 Additional Courses: Internet, Torts, Criminal Law, Advocacy, Ethics


 Text: Green & Nesson, Problems, Cases and Materials on Evidence (Little Brown)

 Articles: Various generally dealing with the nature of judicial proof:

Constitutional Hearsay: Requiring Foundational Testing and Corroboration under the Confrontation Clause 81 Va. L. Rev. 149 (1995), with Yochai Benkler

Incentives to Spoliate Evidence in Civil Litigation:
The Need for Vigorous Judicial Action, 13 Cardozo L. Rev. 793 (1991).

Agent OrangeMeets the Blue Bus: Factfinding at the Frontier of Knowledge, 66 B.U.L. Rev. 521 (1986)

The Evidence or the Event? On Judicial Proof and the
Acceptability of Verdicts, 98 HARV. L. REV. 1357 (1985)

Reasonable Doubt and Permissive Inferences: The
Value of Complexity, 92 HARV. L. REV. 1187 (1979)


 Committee (1974)

 Counsel in various civil liberties cases including:

  •  United States v. Dellinger
  •  United States v. Berrigan
  •  United States v. Ellsberg
  •  Halperin v. Kissinger
  •  Commonwealth v. Edelin
  •  Anderson v. Grace (Woburn toxic tort litigation)

 Television and Seminar Moderator for the Fred Friendly Seminars (Media & Society Program of the Columbia University) (1974-present)

 Moderator for the PBS series The Constitution: That Delicate Balance, produced by Fred Friendly and Media & Society Seminars of Columbia University (1986)

 Ethics in America (1989)

 Moderator for CBS, Eye on the Media: Media and Business

 Moderator for Granada Television programs on The Right to Die, International Bribery, and Terrorism

 Advocate on The Advocates (WGBH)

 Narrator for the film Three Appeals (about the appellate process of the State of New York, made by WNET)

 The Shooting of Big Man (a commentary about a murder, made for ABC)

Copyright 1998