Left on Rights

John Shattuck Brings Civil Liberties Background to Harvard

When John Shattuck settles into his Massachusetts Hall office this summer, he'll be bringing to Harvard eight years of lobbying experience and a string of accomplishments most lawmakers would envy.

The 40-year-old Shattuck leaves his position as National Legislative Director and head of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fill the post of Vice President of Government and Community Affairs left vacant by Robin Schmidt's resignation last spring. The office's responsibilities include much of Harvard's relations with Massachusetts, Cambridge, and the nation, as well as the University's lobby-efforts on such issues as financial aid and academic research.

Shattuck's move to Harvard marks the departure from Washington of one of the capital's most visibly successful lobbyists. Civil liberties activists credit Harvard's new vice president with transforming the ACLU into one of the most effective lobbies in the country. "Shattuck has succeeded in establishing the ACLU as a major force in Congress," says ACLU President Norman Dorsen, a professor at New York University Law School.

"John's about as close to anyone in Washington in being indispensable," adds Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference, an umbrella organization for civil rights groups.

At a time of growing indifference and even hostility on the part of government toward civil rights issues. Shattuck, a native of Hastings. New York, has been a leader in the effort to block many initiatives by Senate conservatives.


Officials in Washington cite him as having prevented attempts by Sen Jesse Helms (D.N.C) to stop the Supreme Court of jurisdiction on civil rights issues such as busing, abortion and school prayer. The failure of the proposed Helms-Johnson Amendment, according to many observers, helped preserve the independence of the judiciary branch.

But the thwarting of Helms's attack on the courts is hardly the only feather in Shattuck's hat In 1974, four years out of Yale Law School and working as a litigator for the ACLU. Shattuck represented Morton H. Halperin in his suit against the government at the height of the Watergate scandal. Halperin, an assistant to Henry A. Kissinger '50 when the latter was National Security advisor, was a victim of wiretapping illegally authorized by then-President Richard M. Nixon and Kissinger in the early days of Nixon's presidency. During the case, Shattuck obtained depositions from Nixon, Kissinger, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Attorney General John Mitchell. Included in these was an eight-hour session with Nixon at his San Clemente estate. After two years of hearings, the court ruled in favor of Halperin, but because of rules stipulating immunity of federal officials, no damages were awarded. Much of the evidence from the case was also used by the House Judiciary Committee in its impeachment proceedings against Nixon.

Shattuck's name emerged from a list of candidates for the post compiled over the summer by President Bok. Along with other members of a selection committee, Bok sent out letters to nationwide contacts asking for someone to fill Schmidt's post. "Because he moved widely in government and congressional circles (Shattuck's) name was mentioned often and he was the kind of candidate we wanted," Daniel Steiner '54, University vice president and general counsel, says.

Formidable challenges will continue to awai: Shattuck in his new role. In recent years, Harvard has found itself part of a growing opposition to many government policies on higher education, while cutbacks in federally funded financial aid for students and research threaten universities livelihood and autonomy.

"There is an educational crisis in America today," Shattuck says, adding, "Issues of education and public policy facing Harvard and universities will be just as, if not more challenging than much of my ACLU work."

In addition to his vice presidency, Shattuck will teach a Harvard Law School course on civil liberties starting in the spring of 1985.

Heading the list of problems Shattuck expects to deal with is the increasing inaccessibility of government information for academic research. He cites the growing use of defense classification for information the government does not want publicized, and tightened restrictions on exchanges with foreign scholars as circumstances endangering academic freedom.

But battling government secrecy is no novelty for the Washington veteran. Shattuck and the ACLU have consistently opposed the Reagan Administration's effort to force 130,000 federal employees to sign secrecy agreements requiring them to obtain government clearance before speaking publicly or writing about issues within their work. Prior to that, the 1966 Yale graduate played an influential role in persuading Congress not to roll back the Freedom of Information Act, a key legislative safeguard for academic freedom.

Along with the secrecy issue. Shattuck, who also has an M.A. from Cambridge, sees financial and as another major area confronting his office. He sees recent cuts in student loan programs as only one of many examples of students' increased difficulty in obtaining federal funds.

"Higher education is a higher national security interest than defense," says Shattuck, who was an anti-war activist as an undergraduate. "My office must raise these issues of priority and work to restore the funding cuts."