MCNS Articles
Monday, October 03, 2005
  The Boston Globe

December 11, 1996, Wednesday, City Edition


LENGTH: 3804 words

Writing her own party line;
Recruited by the Vatican, rebuffed by Bush, the Harvard Law prof defies definition

BYLINE: By Dick Lehr, Globe Staff

In June of last year, the Vatican turned to Harvard - an odd (and unholy) alliance if ever there was one. The telephone rang in the office of law professor Mary Ann Glendon, and it was the Vatican, asking: Would Glendon lead the Holy See's delegation to the international women's conference in Beijing?

"I'll have to ask my dean," Glendon recalls replying, smiling now at the token nod to protocol, for Harvard officials quickly granted her the chance to become the first woman to head a papal delegation. Indeed, such a calling might seem the culmination of any conservative Catholic's life, and Glendon's scholarly work surely satisfied the Church.

But things are more complicated than they seem.

Glendon, 58, may be a devout Roman Catholic, but she defies other labeling. She admires both Robert H. Bork and Thurgood Marshall. She opposes abortion, supports welfare and is an advocate of civil rights and public school desegregation. Formerly a registered Democrat, she is now an independent who believes both parties have sold out to big business. In her six books and countless articles, she's agitated all sides, drawing the ire of feminists and the complaint from conservatives that she's "mushy."

Strikingly blond and unfailingly gracious, dressed in a dark-blue suit highlighted by a silk scarf, Glendon is now welcoming a visitor into the heady halls of Harvard. In the hours of interviews that follow, and in her writings and through interviews with others, her rich life begins to unfold, revealing what can only be taken as surprises if your starting point is a line drawing of a capital-C conservative, based on her work for the Vatican, the assignment that placed her for the first time before a wider audience.

It's a string of surprises that begins as Glendon strides into an office filled with books and explains she has morning treats to go with coffee. "Would you like one of Alan Dershowitz's bagels?" she offers, and her words hang in the air. Later she even jokes about how she and her liberal colleague across the hall used to share a fax machine - until she began receiving reams of confidential material from the Vatican while he was getting a stream of confidential memos from O. J. Simpson's defense team. But no matter how ordinary she makes it, the bagel moment, involving two unlikely floor-mates, does indeed capture this oft-repeated truth: Mary Ann Glendon cannot be pigeonholed.

During the 1960 presidential election, the first in which Glendon, then 22, could vote, she eagerly cast her ballot for John F. Kennedy. For most of her life, she's been a Democrat - all of which seems incongruous for someone now tagged such a conservative.

But then a certain duality runs through this scholar's life.

Glendon was raised in the small town of Dalton in western Massachusetts. Her mother's family, the Pomeroys, fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and her grandfather Theodore Pomeroy was chairman of the town's Republican committee. Her father, Martin Glendon, was a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle and later chaired the local board of selectmen, the first Irish-Catholic Democrat to win that job.

"A big part of who I am is I'm half Irish and half Yankee," Glendon says. She considers herself a "true hybrid" who relishes both traditions. That said, she adds, "It never occurred to me to be anything but a Democrat, which meant to me the party of work, family, church and community." And her early years are marked by a deep commitment to civil rights - a backdrop that makes less surprising a portion of her scholarly writings. Glendon has always had high praise for a US Supreme Court ruling many conservatives consider a rogue act, the unanimous 1954 landmark case, Brown vs. Board of Education, mandating an end to segregated public schools.

Back when Glendon was 9 years old, her parents took her and two siblings to North Carolina, her first trip to the South. They saw firsthand the segregation of everyday life. "I didn't forget it, because both of my parents underlined the lesson. I mean, this was deeply shocking."

Later, in the summer of 1963, having finished law school and studying for a master's degree in comparative law, Glendon and her younger sister accompanied a church group to Washington, D.C. They were part of the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King stir the nation with his speech about his dream. The next year, Glendon used her vacation time plus a few extra weeks to leave her job as an associate in one of Chicago's high-tone law firms to travel to Jackson, Miss. It was the summer that Mississippi was burning, the summer that three civil rights workers disappeared and were later found, dead, in a swamp; Glendon joined lawyers from around the country to help local blacks assert their voting rights and defend jailed civil rights workers.

"I felt frightened many times," recalls Glendon. "There was just the fear of driving along those roads when you knew that some of the people driving those same roads had been intercepted and, as we knew then, killed."

For the young attorney, Jackson was a long way from the Berkshires, and within a couple of years she was crossing racial lines not only in her work but in her personal life. While in Mississippi, she met another young attorney, a black man, and the next year, after Glendon returned to Chicago, they were married in a civil ceremony. She resumed her work at Mayer, Brown and Platt, one of the city's oldest and largest firms, where she was only the second woman ever hired. Even though her early years might suggest a liberal activist in the making, Glendon sees these years as grounded in Catholicism and a small-town populism, the river running deeply through her life.

It's as if times changed, and Glendon didn't.

To her, the Democratic Party gradually "stopped being the party of working men and women" and, anathema to her Catholicism, "became insistent on an extreme version of the separation of church and state." Never comfortable with Republican ties to big business, she was cut loose.

But the life of the mind evolved gradually, a sharp contrast to the unexpected tumult in her personal life. In 1966, two years after Glendon's work in Mississippi and one year after marrying, much of what she was counting on collapsed around her. That May 22, her father, Martin Glendon, with whom she'd always been close, tagging along by his side during his newspaper assignments, died of cancer. He was 56 years old and had always been healthy and hardy, until his terminal condition was diagnosed that winter. Two weeks after his death, Glendon gave birth to her first daughter, Elizabeth - just as her husband decided to leave her.

"I was cleaned out, you might say," says Glendon about this "awful period." Her voice softens, her tone is solemn; she is reluctant to discuss the marital breakup, unwilling to mention by name the man who "didn't come see me in the hospital.

"I was dealing with my father's death, and I was dealing with the prospect of being a single parent of a mixed-racial child." During this time, too, she was trying to maintain the high-octane pace of a young associate at a big-time firm; she had been required to work that Memorial Day weekend just days before her daughter was born and then, with baby in hand, had to tap four weeks of vacation as a maternity leave. "I began, then, to look for ways to come back to Massachusetts," she says.

It took two years, but this decision marked her entree into the academic life. Glendon was hired in 1968 to teach at Boston College Law School. The move back also marked an intense period in which Glendon was focused almost exclusively on her academic career and her family life, first as a single parent and then in a relationship with Edward R. Lev, a labor lawyer she'd known at the Chicago firm. In Massachusetts on a business trip, Lev asked her out. They married in 1970. (The couple had a daughter, Katherine, in 1971, and adopted Sarah in 1973.)

Public issues and discourse, political activism, even Catholic Church matters - that would all come later. "I wasn't able to do anything for the Church, a little Sunday School teaching," says Glendon, a trace of playful guilt in her voice. "But really nothing during the years when my kids were little. The late 1960s and into the 1970s were just a blur! Get tenure at work. Raise three daughters. Vietnam. Watergate. All that. I was like Rip Van Winkle as far as the great events of the '70s."

If not for her devotion to teaching and family, according to many who have followed her academic career, Glendon would have broken out into the open long before her Vatican assignment last year. "She could be a much more prominent figure in American politics if she was more willing to travel to promote herself," says Roger Conner of the Washington-based American Alliance of Rights and Responsibilities. "But it's always been difficult to pry her out of Boston, because of her family and teaching, the priorities she has established for her life."

Her commitment to teaching seems to have succeeded. Today, Renee Landers is deputy counsel at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, she taught law at Boston College and also took Glendon's classes while she was a law student there. Though Landers is quick to preface her remarks by saying she disagrees with many of Glendon's positions, particularly her views opposing abortion, she praises Glendon as "a very fine scholar and an excellent teacher.

"Anybody at BC would tell you it was a tremendous loss when she left, to lose both a scholar of her stature and a teacher of her ability. It's hard to have both qualities," Landers says.

More recently, Harvard law students, who submit teacher evaluations after a course is over, posted rave reviews of Glendon's class work. Teaching property law and comparative law, she won high ratings for being sensitive to students, responsive to their questions and accessible outside of class. The students, according to officials, are not a bunch to pull punches, but Glendon, wrote one student, "is the most concerned and dedicated professor I've had at HLS." Wrote another, "If all my professors were this good, I'd pay double tuition."

For her part, Glendon concurs with Conner's view about the all-consuming hustle required to break into the mainstream; but she smiles and shakes her head with a look of "Not for me." During these years, she and her husband, a partner at the Boston firm of Sullivan and Worcester, set a rule about making it home from work by 5 p.m. to relieve the baby sitter and tend to family.

"Raising kids and having not just a job, but very intensive kinds of careers, almost everything goes, except for family and the job," Glendon recalls. "You economize where you can, so we virtually had no social life." There was, she says, always a "sense of robbing Peter to pay Paul," a nagging feeling one moment that she'd shortchanged her daughters by, say, missing a school event, and then, another moment, the suspicion that she wasn't doing enough for her academic career. To illustrate, Glendon tells a story that reveals both how stretched she was but also how ambitious. By 1974, six years into her career at BC, she got a call from Harvard about spending a year there; it would be a tryout for a possible permanent appointment.

"As you can imagine, I was very excited about that, and I came over here in 1974 and I taught my little heart out." Her daughters, she adds, were all under the age of 10. Life was hectic all around. "I was herYou didn't do lunch.' " Glendon was crestfallen. Before the day was out she had another visitor. "Judge Charlie Wyzanski," she remembers. "He had a reputation for bluntness, and he came by and just stuck his head in and said, 'Well, I hear they're sending you back to the minor leagues.' " Glendon pauses here. "And I was sent back to the minor leagues, for 12 years."

In 1986 Glendon moved over to Harvard, where today she is the Learned Hand Professor of Law. Beginning in the 1980s, she began to emerge from her self-described "Rip Van Winkle" phase. Her writings increased and expanded as she moved beyond the narrowly academic and esoteric concerns of property and estate law and into the politicized battlegrounds of abortion and feminism. In hindsight, her output of the past decade constitutes a pathway to her recent assignment in Beijing for the Vatican, a body of work that caught the eye of antiabortion activists, Cardinal Bernard Law and, finally, Pope John Paul II.

In 1987, Glendon's book "Abortion and Divorce in Western Law" was published. To her surprise, she has said, she found "the US is absolutely in a class by itself" in its virtually unfettered access to abortion and the way in which "the courts have taken the problem so completely away from the legislatures." In Europe, she found "no talk of a right to an abortion."

Glendon is against abortion under any circumstance, although she also opposes criminalizing the procedure as a crude and ineffective tool to reduce abortion rates. In the book, she launched a broadside - an attack she has pursued relentlessly ever since - against Roe vs. Wade, not only for its outcome in finding a constitutional right to abortion, but for what she considers the high court's naked power grab to fulfill a political agenda. She also began talking about a "dark side" to the prochoice movement, which has become another refrain, in which she argues that "silent supporters" of abortion rights include men who don't want to take responsibility for fatherhood, people who profit financially from the "abortion industry," and, "maybe saddest of all, people who see abortion as a way to keep down the size of an underclass."

The abortion book was followed in 1991 by "Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse." In it Glendon wrote: "A tendency to frame nearly every social controversy in terms of a clash of legal rights (a woman's right to her own body vs. a fetus's right to life) impedes compromise, mutual understanding, and the discovery of a common ground." Taking aim again at Roe v. Wade, she complained that the 1973 ruling "brought to a virtual halt the process of legislative abortion reform that was already well on the way to producing in the United States, as it did all over Europe, compromise statutes that gave very substantial protections to women's interests without completely denying protection to developing life."

Conner, of the American Alliance of Rights and Responsibilities, calls it "her most important work. The book has become a manual for people trying to find a language for placing community responsibility on the same moral level, on equal moral footing, as individual rights."

In recent years, Glendon has also produced countless opinion pieces and book reviews published in The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers, and in such magazines as The National Review and First Things, the latter a neoconservative periodical for which she also sits on the editorial advisory board. Increasingly, she has taken on family and feminism, what she has called "the last gasp of a certain kind of feminism of the '70s, an angry, polarizing feminism." In an article last year, she wrote about an "old feminism . . . distinguished by its sour attitude toward family life, its rigid party line on gay rights and abortion and its puzzling combination of sexual anger with sexual aggressiveness." Last month, in a speech to priests at a seminary in Weston, Glendon hailed the arrival of a new feminism, a feminism that "is looking for better ways for women and men to live and work and raise their children."

In all, her research and writings placed her at odds with the Democratic Party, where she'd previously felt at home. "I emerged the same way," Glendon says, referring to the early 1980s, when she began to have more time to research and write, "and the Democrats were now somewhere else."

It's not as if she has embraced the Republican Party. "Too attached to big business," she says. Instead, she has employed the term "homeless" to describe her political status, "appalled" by the convergence of the parties to the point where both "are attracted now to big government, like heroin to an addict, and they can't give it up."

Glendon occupies her own turf, and it's as if political and social thinkers at times do not know what to make of her. For openings on the federal bench, she's drawn interest from both parties. But she's never exactly been a neat fit. During the Carter administration, her interview went well, she recalls, but "the most probable reason I did not get a federal judgeship was my prolife view." During the Bush administration, the antiabortion view worked in her favor, but her more expansive view of construing the Constitution likely did not fit the Bush party line. "There were all these questions that, for this particular Justice Department, mine were the wrong answers," says Glendon.

Not infrequently, she finds herself a target for all sides. "What irritates people who adhere to a party line is if you aren't with them all the way, then you are in some ways more obnoxious to them than the well-known enemy over there."

Leon Graglia, for one, a conservative legal scholar at the University of Texas, trashed Glendon's last book, "A Nation Under Lawyers." In The National Review, Graglia delivered an unflattering portrayal of both the author and the book (he called Glendon's analysis "soft" and "typically mushy"). Graglia wrote: "She earns the accolade of 'moderate' by, it turns out, pandering to liberal convention and mythology and hedging her conservative-sounding arguments to the point of retraction. She defies political categorization because she typically seeks to have things both ways."

From the other side, the criticism might be less heated, but it is poed nonetheless. Ellen Zucker, a lawyer in Boston and a longtime official with the National Organization for Women, respects Glendon's concern about the social welfare of women and children, but says her writings reveal a "nasty disrespect" for the women's movement.

"I hear from her a paternalism toward women," says Zucker, and a "narrow vision of family." Glendon may claim to be just an academic, says Zucker, but "in the recent past she has stepped forward as not only an antichoice activist but a self-styled critic of the women's movement."

The consequences of being this way - of being Glendon - extend into skirmishes of everyday scholarly life.

In 1993, for example, Harvard's general counsel Margaret H. Marshall (today the newest addition to the state Supreme Judicial Court) chastised Glendon for a letter she'd written to Catholic pastors opposing federal abortion legislation.

"The use of Harvard letterhead for purely personal correspondence is not appropriate," Marshall wrote.

Glendon's mouth dropped. Responding in a letter, she called the rebuke politically motivated. She could not find another law professor, she wrote, who'd ever been admonished for using school stationery to support such liberal causes as opposing the US Supreme Court nominations of Bork or Clarence Thomas.

The cross-fire can even carry a price tag. The same year Glendon tangled over Harvard stationery, she experienced a blunt end to research funding she was relying on to carry her through an unpaid leave from teaching. The Laurel Foundation, having expressed interest in Glendon's work, authorized in 1991 a $ 250,000 grant that was paid in two installments. Relying on that and oral assurances there would be further support, Glendon began her two-year leave from Harvard in fall 1992.

But months later, a fateful article by Glendon appeared in the March 1993 National Review. In it she wrote of "a sinister side of the abortion-rights movement: its sibling relationship with the anti-immigration groups who see abortion and border controls as the major defenses against an expanding, threatening, welfare-consuming - and non-white - underclass."

Relations with the Laurel Foundation quickly soured. Glendon learned the group, controlled by Cordelia S. May of the Mellon family, mainly funded causes she had criticized. May's fortune is estimated at $ 600 million, and foundation officials wrote Glendon that her single sentence "seemed to be aimed directly at us: we are not only pro-choice and pro-immigration reform, but probably the largest funders of both efforts in the country."

Glendon tried to repair the damage; she apologized and even called her utterance a "cheap shot." By late summer, and just as the second year of her leave began, her calls were not being returned.

"It was eerie," says Glendon. "They were so interested but then it was like I died." Financially secure, she managed without further funding to finish her most recent book. "I can laugh about it now, but that is a brutal way to be."

For her part, Glendon has long become accustomed to her role as a dissenter, a Roman Catholic voice crisscrossing political and ideological boundaries. Even so, there are always moments of of discomfort, even pique (she and Graglia traded frosty letters following Graglia's panning of her book). Most recently, Glendon "felt bad" when she read portions of Bork's new book, "Slouching Towards Gomorrah." In 1987, she supported Bork's failed nomination to the US Supreme Court, and now, in his angry treatise about liberalism ruining the country, "it was painful to see him criticize moderates."

Indeed, she read Bork as taking aim at her. "But I don't see why we have to be read out of the rolls if we don't hew to the party line, point by point. . . . There are a lot of people who don't fit standard American political categories."

Glendon is a leading example of these misfits, maintaining, she says, a "distinctively Roman Catholic position that tends to be concerned about working people and the poor, what some people call 'liberal' on economic issues, but tends, at the same time, to be socially conservative."

Meanwhile, Glendon remains preoccupied with her family and her work, which, beyond teaching law, includes several papal assignments, working as a member of Cardinal Law's Advisory Committee on Social Justice, and new research in international human rights, although she goes into that last project with open eyes regarding the hunt for foundation support. "The conservative foundations are not happy with the social and economic preoccupations I have," she says, "and the liberal foundations just hate my prolife views."

Smiling, she tosses up a final surprising line, to sum up her view that you take what comes and move forward, quoting not Learned Hand, Pope John Paul II or even God. Instead, "as Bob Dylan has said, 'You have to keep on, keepin' on.' "

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, 1. Glendon with Pope John Paul II. She represented the Vatican at the international women's conference. 2. Glendon (with husband Edward Lev on Harvard Law campus) calls her own political status "homeless." GLOBE STAFF PHOTO/TOM HERDE 3. Glendon (center) was the Vatican's choice to lead its delegation to the 1995 international women's conference in Beijing. 
Articles too lengthy to fit on the Irish Elk blog.

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