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Mastering Boston Harbor

Mastering Boston Harbor

Courts, Dolphins, and Imperiled Waters

Charles M. Haar

ISBN 9780674015289

Publication date: 03/28/2005

Mastering Boston Harbor chronicles how America's most glorious and historically significant harbor was rescued from decades of pollution and neglect by a community of caring citizens who were linked to an environmentally committed judge and his special harbor master. This dynamic public-private team shaped novel legal and political procedures for governing and restoring the harbor.

Charles Haar provides a fascinating study of the convergence of judicial supervision with political, environmental, financial, and technological interests. He challenges those who will instantly decry an "activist" judiciary and pulls back the curtain on the serious problems a court faces when it must grapple with an intractable problem affecting public interest. Haar demonstrates that at times only a resolute judiciary can energize and coordinate the branches of government to achieve essential contemporary social goals--goals that are endorsed and supported by a majority whose voice is often ignored in legislative and executive back rooms.

Because of his experience as special master in the dispute, Haar provides the reader with an insider's view of a modern brand of judicial decision-making that is not anti-majoritarian, and could be applied to similar crises in which the legislative and executive branches of government are impotent. Citizens concerned about the conflict between unbridled economic liberty and environmental protection will gain important insight from this eyewitness account of how the "harbor of shame" became a vibrant focal point for the renewal of Boston as a world-class city.


  • Mastering Boston Harbor is a major work that combines the story of a single immense litigation with an analysis of the story's lessons about law and about judicial activism. Boston Harbor was a mess, largely because all levels of government ran from their responsibilities. A rare judge, the late Paul Garrity, then intervened. Acting unjudicially, he appointed Professor Charles Haar as special master and directed Haar to develop a plan to clean up the harbor. Today the harbor is vastly cleaner, citizens pay a surcharge on their water bills, and the law has been served. The story is riveting. Also, it is the best work on the subject of activist judicial takeovers of poorly functioning government agencies and processes.

    —Lance Liebman, Columbia University Law School


  • Charles M. Haar was Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law, Emeritus, Harvard Law School.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press