WATERVILLE — Nancy Gertner and Sonia Sotomayor served together on a panel advising Yale Law School students interested in becoming judges.

Sotomayor, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice, encouraged them to graduate from the esteemed institution, clerk for a judge, work for the government and be cautious about what they said.
Gertner had a different take.

Find a radical lesbian feminist who’s an anti-Vietnam War protester involved in a robbery in which a police officer is killed and represent her. Then seek out abortion cases and marry the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gertner, winner of the 2010 Morton A. Brody Award for Distinguished Judicial Service, delivered remarks Monday night in a presentation titled, “The Supreme Court and Civil Rights: The Promise Unfulfilled?” at Colby College.

Gertner, a famed former criminal defense attorney and civil rights lawyer, recently left the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to join Harvard Law School faculty as a visiting lecturer.

Gertner details her career, experiences and struggles in “In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate” that was recently released.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman said Gertner’s memoir “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.”

The self-described outsider lawyer is one of two women who have received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the other.

Gertner said since the late ’80s and early ’90s, the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts have substantially rewritten employment discrimination laws.

While overt discrimination such as signs proclaiming “No blacks need apply” are gone, Gertner said subtle forms of employment discrimination exist.

And she wondered if today’s courts could recognize it.

A problem, said Gertner, is that courts look for rogue bad actors or written polices that are discriminatory. “The search for a rogue actor asks the wrong question,” she said.

The question, said Gertner, is whether patterns of decision-making enable individuals to discriminate.

“My life and work are reflected in the social change affected through law,” Gertner said. “My issue now is how come things have stalled?”

Beth Staples — 861-9252
[email protected]

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