The Trials of Lani Guinier
Strange name, strange hair, strange writings--she's history." So goes the gallows humor even Democrats are promoting about Lani Guinier, Bill Clinton's choice to be the Justice Department's chief civil-rights lawyer. What they mean is that the liberal Guinier is looking just like conservative 1987 Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork--at risk of losing Senate confirmation because foes have cast her scholarship as radical. For now, the forces opposing the former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund litigator are winning, even before her Judiciary Committee appearance scheduled for later this month.
While the administration waited from April until last week to mount a defense, Guinier's detractors--legal groups seeking revenge for nomination battles against conservatives during the Reagan and Bush years--have conducted a convincing assault. They've argued that law review articles she has written since 1988 as a University of Pennsylvania law professor advocate antidemocratic voting-rights reforms to increase minority power in legislatures and that they disregard the principles of majority rule and "one person, one vote."
The White House had no reason to be caught off guard. U.S. News has learned that Senate Democrats warned Clinton aides before the nomination about Guinier's articles. Aware that she was a friend of both the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the White House counsel's office cautioned them about the articles. The Clintons insisted on nominating her anyway--but began fighting for Guinier only last week, when they learned that not one Democratic Judiciary Committee member supports her publicly. If she doesn't change minds soon, the heat to withdraw her name will intensify, in part to avoid harming whoever is named to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Byron White. Indeed, there is speculation that Clinton will choose a moderate white male for the court to help bargain support for Guinier.
Judicial quotas. To some extent, Guinier is a victim of the Washington practice of "rip and don't read": Her writings are being caricatured by many who blithely accept her foes' distorted accounts of her words. For instance, despite her critics' claims, Guinier has not argued that blacks who win election with white and black votes are not "authentic" minority representatives. But some of what her critics charge--and her supporters deny--is true. She does say the very Senate Judiciary Committee that will decide her fate should postpone action on white judicial candidates until a president offers a specific number of minority nominees--in essence, imposing federal judicial quotas. And she has stressed publicly that majoritarian principles don't work, says one White House official who heard her at a 1991 federal judges' meeting in Michigan. (Guinier did not return U.S. News's calls.)
It's not clear where Clinton or Janet Reno stands on such positions. Reno has said little about civil rights. But in an April speech, she emphasized the need to address the issue so that "all Americans will understand." Given the distortions and the realities of her opinions, Guinier faces a huge job convincing the Senate she's the right person to make that case.
This story appears in the June 7, 1993 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.