The photo left (by Mike Adaskaveg) is actually rather flattering of about-to-retire Boston lawyer Chester Darling. His physical appearance should not be an issue, but he has been the epitome of the cliché that nasty on the inside can mean nasty outside.
There are a couple of ways to look at the 76-year-old. His own would be that Darling was the darling of the extreme right. He portrays himself as a crusader for the First Amendment, for freedom and for limited government. He likes it when people liken him to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes.
To many though, he represents both the worst of the legal profession and the basest abusers of democracy. He figuratively wrapped himself in the flag while beating minorities. He fostered anti-gay attitude and action. He was hypocritical in wanting the government to interfere for his bigoted aims but not to protect those he disliked.
On one occasion, he took devilish delight in 1998 in representing the Gay and Lesbian Community Advocates of Lawrence. The irony was not lost on him, who was infamous for using the First Amendment on the other side to prevent gays from marching in the private South Boston St. Patrick's Day parade. While the Lawrence case was an extremely rare effort to help gays, he made much of it as proof that he was for principle, not against anyone.
In the Boston Globe's coverage of Darling's last day in court, other highlights (or lowlights) of his career include:
He railed against buffer zones that protect abortion clinics from protesters. He successfully defended a Woburn minister's right to whip his son with a leather belt. He sued the town of Lexington for refusing to display a Nativity scene on its public green. He sought to overturn race-based school admissions policies.He had his own forever-tiny organization, Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights Inc. He hoped it would be the conservative (I'd say reactionary) opposite of the ACLU. His apparently defunct Website for it was julyfourth.net.
He aligned himself with the most reactionary Massachusetts groups. These include C.J. Doyle's Catholic Action League of Massachusetts and the Article 8 Alliance. He has done his best to overturn same-sex marriage. He likes the inane and wrong-headed argument that the SJC decision legalizing SSM here somehow wasn't legal because no bill became law. That works for those who read the how-a-bill-becomes-law brochure handed to sixth graders, but not for anyone who went through civics 101 and learned about branches of government.
Even as he hid behind the First Amendment and blustered about rights, Darling crafted a career around his lost causes. He was forever trying to limit the freedoms of this group or that, while saying he was really for free speech all the while. He would repeat "freedom of association" when what he meant was freedom to discriminate.
He leaves a sad legacy of divisiveness. Fortunately, he was out of tune with this century and much of the last one, both in legal terms and cultural ones.
I have mixed feelings about the immediate catalyst for Darling's overdue retirement. His macular degeneration has virtually blinded him. From experience with my mother, with a minister closing in rapidly on 90, and others, I know how the mentally active readers and writers despise the quick closing of their visual world. My mother was a three-newspaper-a-morning reader. She had heart and lung problems, but said they were nothing compared to not being able to read a book.
To his credit, Darling said that he expects to write, maybe a memoir or a novel. Carrying on in physical adversity is virtuous.
As for novels, I suspect that would be Darling's forte. One from him would have obvious good guys and villains. There would be a clear conflict, and of course, the hero will save the day. It would make decent fantasy escapist reading. Then again, so should his memoir.