Nancy Gertner: From Advocate Attorney To Federal Judge25:30

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Here's a question that gets to the heart of how our legal system works: Can a passionate civil rights advocate, an ardent feminist and high profile criminal defense lawyer who made no secret of her liberal views, become a fair and affective federal judge? Judge Nancy Gertner says the answer is yes.

"In Defense of Women"

Before President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in 1994, Gertner had built a career as a legal advocate — defending clients in some of the most high-profile cases of the time. In 1975, she represented Susan Saxe, an anti-war activist who was tried for her role in a bank robbery that lead to the murder of a Boston police officer. Gertner also took on abortion rights cases, defended a woman who'd been sexually molested by her psychiatrist and another who was tried for the murder of her abusive husband.

And she did this at a time when there were few women in a stubbornly male profession.

As Judge Gertner prepared to step down from the federal bench, she wrote a memoir — "In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate." The book chronicles many of the cases she took on, her legal battles, victories and defeats.

"Being a judge, it was said, was the pinnacle of one's career," Gertner writes. "But I was worried that that identity, important though it was, threatened to obliterate all traces of the earlier one."

We speak with Judge Gertner about her career and what it says about the legal system.


  • Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Massachusetts; author, "In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate"


  • Read an excerpt from "In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate" (PDF)

This segment aired on May 4, 2011.