LISTEN HERE (Support this project at patreon.com/AfricanElements)
Lani Guinier, a lawyer whose innovative and provocative writings on racial justice and voting rights were used to undermine her nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division early in the presidency of Bill Clinton, died Jan. 7 at an assisted-living facility in Cambridge, Mass. She was 71.
Ms. Guinier (pronounced gwuh-NEAR) spent much of her career at the elite levels of her profession as a graduate of one Ivy League law school and a professor at two others, as a Justice Department lawyer during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, and as a litigator for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s.
In some of her writings, Ms. Guinier recommended changes in electoral procedures that would give Black citizens and other minorities a greater say in the outcome of legislation affecting their lives. Winner-take-all elections, Ms. Guinier argued, too often allow the majority to ignore the needs of everyone else. She called for proportional voting and other measures that would ensure increased representation of minorities and a more cooperative, nonpartisan approach to legislating.
In a controversial article from 1991, she called for Black political candidates to be “not just physically black” but to demonstrate a “cultural and psychological view of group solidarity.” She advocated “anti-discrimination” policies under which “roughly equal outcomes, not merely an apparently fair process, are the goal.”
Ms. Guinier’s thinking has become more mainstream in recent years, as anti-racist practices and implicit bias training in the workplace have become more commonplace. In the early 1990s, however, these ideas proved to be incendiary. Conservative outlets launched an all-out assault on Ms. Guinier, led by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which called a her “quota queen.”
The Clinton White House told Ms. Guinier not to give any interviews before her Senate confirmation hearings, which allowed political opponents to portray her in harsh, sometimes nastily personal ways. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) asserted that Ms. Guinier was “consistently hostile to the principle of one-person-one vote, consistently hostile to majority rule and a consistent supporter not only of quotas but of vote-rigging schemes that make quotas look mild.”
“I have always believed in democracy, and nothing I have ever written is inconsistent with that,” she said in a news conference the next day. “I am a democratic idealist who believes that politics need not be forever seen as an `I win, you lose’ dynamic in which some people are permanent, monopoly winners and others are permanent, excluded losers.”
Ms. Guinier and her sisters observed Jewish holidays with their mother’s family, but they identified primarily as Black. After graduating third in her high school class of more than 1,400 students, Ms. Guinier went to Radcliffe, a now-defunct women’s college then affiliated with Harvard, graduating in 1971. She was a 1974 graduate of Yale Law School, where she was friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
She taught at New York University’s law school for a few years before joining the law faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. Her books included the autobiographical “Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback Into New Vision of Social Justice” (1998); “Who’s Qualified?,” a 2001 book about affirmative action written with Susan Sturm; and “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America” (2015).
Ms. Guinier was 12 when she decided to become a lawyer, after watching television reports of the turmoil surrounding James Meredith’s enrollment as the first Black student at the University of Mississippi. He was escorted through an angry White crowd by NAACP lawyer Constance Baker Motley, an African American woman who later became a federal judge.
This content was originally published here.