A champion of women’s rights reflects on her illustrious career litigating groundbreaking cases on reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and violence against women
In the boys’ club climate of 1975, Nancy Gertner launched her career fighting a murder charge on behalf of antiwar activist Susan Saxe, one of the few women to ever make the FBI’s Most Wanted List. What followed was a storied span of groundbreaking firsts, as Gertner threw herself into criminal and civil cases focused on women’s rights and civil liberties.
Gertner writes, for example, about representing Clare Dalton, the Harvard Law professor who famously sued the school after being denied tenure, and of being one of the first lawyers to introduce evidence of Battered Women’s Syndrome in a first-degree murder defense. She writes about the client who sued her psychiatrist after he had sexually preyed on her, and another who sued her employers at Merrill Lynch—she had endured strippers and penis-shaped cakes in the office, but the wildly skewed distribution of clients took professional injury too far. All of these were among the first cases of their kind.
Gertner brings her extensive experience to bear on issues of long-standing importance today: the general evolution of thought regarding women and fetuses as legally separate entities, possibly at odds; the fungible definition of rape and the rights of both the accused and the victim; ever-changing workplace attitudes and policies around women and minorities; the concept of abetting crime.
“With wit, heart, and honesty, Gertner . . . looks back on the decades just after feminism’s Third Wave, when issues like abortion for poor women, shield laws for rape victims, ‘battered wife syndrome,’ and the rights of lesbians to adopt children were unconventional, to say the least.” —Renee Loth, The Boston Globe
“This is a fascinating memoir of a life lived in the law with passion, guts, humor, and great skill.” —Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and author of Before Roe v. Wade
About the Author
Nancy Gertner was appointed a Federal District judge by President Clinton in 1993 and serves on the bench for the District of Massachusetts. Before her appointment, Judge Gertner was a defense and civil rights lawyer in Boston. As a judge she has decided cases where racial profiling, employment discrimination, and fair housing were at issue. A graduate of Barnard College and Yale Law School, she has taught at the law schools of Yale, Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard.
“…[A] must read for any feminist attorneys. Readers will find Gertner’s honesty, humor, and bravery refreshing.” —Ms.JD
“At age 29, barely out of Yale Law School, Gertner takes on the defense of Susan Saxe. It is the beginning of a long career pushing the boundaries of law and society. With wit, heart, and honesty, Gertner . . . looks back on the decades just after feminism’s Third Wave, when issues like abortion for poor women, shield laws for rape victims, ‘battered wife syndrome,’ and the rights of lesbians to adopt children were unconventional, to say the least.” —Renee Loth, The Boston Globe
“In this season of television re-runs, devotees of Law and Order or The Good Wifewould do well to turn off the tube, and sit down with Gertner’s book. They might pull an all-nighter.” —Senior Women
“This is a wonderfully readable and involving memoir by one of the legendary lawyer advocates of our time, a determined representative of the underserved who improbably ended up on the federal bench. A terrific book.” —Scott Turow, author of Innocent
“This is a fascinating memoir of a life lived in the law with passion, guts, humor, and great skill. Nancy Gertner’s clients were lucky to have her then, and the legal system is lucky to have her today.” —Linda Greenhouse, author of Before Roe v. Wade and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter
“An extraordinary story by an extraordinary judge! Gertner’s memoir succeeds brilliantly in explaining why women’s voices are urgently needed in the law and on the bench. This book is as irreverent, funny, and dramatic as the justice herself.” —Joyce Antler, author of You Never Call! You Never Write!
“Nancy Gertner is a courageous pioneer and brilliant jurist whose life lessons will interest anyone who has ever stood in a courtroom, fought for a cause, or juggled a demanding career and loving family.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of SuperCorp
“Nancy Gertner’s book should be required reading at every law school in the country where women—and men—are learning these days that they have to choose between a successful legal career and their deepest convictions about justice. She is living proof that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. You can have it all. Indeed, she has done it all.” —Ellen Goodman, author of Paper Trail
“Gertner adeptly describes insider courtroom strategy as well as both the blatant and insidious institutional sexism she faced. Her story is a well-told reflection of the growth and growing pains of the legal system regarding women as advocates, educators, plaintiffs, and defendants.” —Publisher's Weekly
“A riveting legal memoir by a superstar lawyer, a compassionate judge and a page turning writer. In Defense of Women is a rare treat: an insider with an outsider’s perspective speaking truth about power.” ─Alan M. Dershowitz, author of Supreme Injustice
“[A] thoroughly engaging, outspoken memoir…She writes this memoir to preserve her pre-judge identity as an advocate, as well as to remind the next generation of women, particularly those rejecting feminism, of the choices she and her contemporaries fought hard to maintain.” ─Kirkus Reviews