A “dominant figure” in American law, Harvard professor Lani Guinier dies at 71

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A lawyer and scholar who envisioned creative ways to make elective politics and admissions to top universities more welcoming and inclusive, Ms Guinier was 71 when she died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Friday.

The first one colored woman holder at Harvard Law School, she lived in Cambridge, where, as an undergraduate student at Radcliffe College decades ago, she was among those who pushed Harvard University to create a department African-American Studies.

Professor of Law Bennett Boskey, Emeritus, Ms. Guinier has written several books, including a brief which detailed the proof of his appointment to the Ministry of Justice which was carried away.

Ms. Guinier also wrote “The tyranny of the majority” and “The Tyranny of MeritocracyWhich challenged conventional assumptions about fostering diversity in government and academia.

“She is to be remembered for her unwavering commitment to a vision of equality, opportunity and democracy where everyone has the power to speak, have their voices heard and participate”, Tomiko Brown-Nagin , dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard, said in an interview.

Brown-Nagin, who is also Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, called Ms. Guinier “a distinguished figure in American history and in the history of American law.” She was a brilliant lawyer, scholar, teacher – an amazing mentor. “

Ms. Guinier “was one of the most creative and avant-garde academics in democracy,” said Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Charles Ogletree Jr. law professor for a Harvard law school. tribute posted online. “She was always many years ahead of her time. She saw both the problems and the solutions long before anyone else.

Among the electoral alternatives that Ms. Guinier had highlighted in her writings was cumulative voting, a practice that had long been little used.

When it was instituted in a county of Alabama, she wrote in a 1994 New York Times essay, cumulative voting gave each voter seven votes to be used to elect seven county commissioners.

Rather than voting once in each of the seven contests, voters could vote more than one of their seven allotted votes in a general election for their preferred candidates – four for one, two for another, one vote for one third party, for example.

“It turned out that in Chilton County black people and Republicans have benefited from this new system,” she wrote. “The county commission now has four white Democrats, two white Republicans and one black Democrat. Previously, when every seat was decided in a winner-take-all contest, the majority not only reigned but monopolized. Only white Democrats were elected.

The approach, she said, encouraged “interracial coalition building” and offered an added benefit: “It eliminates gerrymandering. This could call into question the current debate over racially-minded constituencies, since blacks or Latinos or any politically consistent minority could elect whatever representatives they want without the need to draw funny-shaped constituencies. “

But when Clinton appointed Ms Guinier in April 1993 as deputy attorney general for civil rights, condemnation of the Tories was swift and the nuances of her purse were reduced to sound bites.

“On April 30, a Wall Street Journal columnist coined the murderous epithet: Clinton’s ‘quota queen’,” she later wrote in The New York Times.

“Looking back, it’s remarkable how easily I could be called the queen of quotas by so many people, given the complexity of my essays,” she added.

Almost 27 years after this New York Times article appeared, his words could easily be used by either side in the current era of political polarization.

“My point is simple: 51% of people shouldn’t always have 100% of the power; 51% of people certainly shouldn’t have all the power if they use that power to exclude the 49%, ”Ms. Guinier wrote. “In this case, we don’t have a majority rule. We have the tyranny of the majority.

Carol Lani Guinier was born in Manhattan, NY on April 19, 1950 and raised in Queens.

His mother was a civil rights activist Eugenie Paprin Guinier, a daughter of Jewish immigrants known as Genii who had worked as a speech therapist and English teacher in high school.

Mrs. Guinier’s father, Ewart Guinier, was a lawyer, union organizer and teacher.

He had attended Harvard as an undergraduate student for two years before leaving when he was denied financial aid for failing to include in his admission application a photo that allegedly revealed his race to a when the university admitted almost no black students.

“My father’s experience at Harvard College in 1929, as he told me, was a first lesson in the indignity and inhumanity of racism,” Guinier said at a press conference. press conference in 1993 after the withdrawal of his appointment to the Ministry of Justice.

After completing his education and law degree elsewhere, he then returned to Harvard as the first chair of the African American Studies department.

Growing up was her own lesson in racial attitudes and perceptions, Ms. Guinier wrote. As the daughter of a white mother and a black father, “I had answered my batch of complete stranger questions asking, ‘What are you? “”

In 1971 she graduated from Radcliffe and three years later graduated from Yale Law School, where Clinton was a classmate.

After working for judges, she joined the Carter administration, as Special Assistant to Deputy Attorney General Drew S. Days in the Civil Rights Division.

She then worked for the Legal Defense of the NAACP and Educational Fund, where she rose to lead the voting rights project. In 1988, Ms. Guinier joined the University of Pennsylvania Law School and remained there until her move. in 1998 as a full professor at Harvard Law School.

Four years later, students awarded him the Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Prize for Excellence in Teaching. She became professor emeritus in 2017.

While working for the Legal Defense Fund, she met Nolan bowie on a blind date. They were married in 1986. He is a lawyer who taught at Temple University in Philadelphia and is a emeritus colleague at Harvard Kennedy School.

Their son, Niko bowie, is an assistant professor at Harvard Law School and received the Freund Award last year. In a video put online, he recalled when he told her during the week “she went to the hospice for advanced Alzheimer’s disease”.

When she was diagnosed several years ago, her husband and son asked her what she wanted “to do with the rest of her life,” Niko said.

“His response was always the same: ‘I want to teach,’” he said. “Teaching meant everything to her.

He encouraged his students to “have a career like my mother, a career that ends not with a list of your accomplishments or an account of your income, but a celebration of the people you have empowered.”

Besides her husband and her son, Mme Guinier leaves behind three sisters, Chlotilde Stenson, Sary Guinier and Marie Guinier; and a granddaughter.

The family will announce a memorial gathering to celebrate the life and work of Ms. Guinier.

“Lani was smart as she went, insightful about people, generous in sharing her wisdom and time, and funny,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who worked with her at the fund. NAACP legal defense. “We could work on a case all night and cut it off with belly laughs.”

Brown-Nagin said Ms. Guinier “leaves a deep legacy” on a more than professional level.

“Her personality, the way she behaved is also part of her heritage,” said Brown-Nagin. “She touched lives because she was such a warm and generous person, and so compassionate. She believed in talking to people across differences, which is too often lacking in our country today. “

To foster diversity in higher education, Guinier pushed universities to move beyond the long-standing ‘testocracy’ of placing too much emphasis on standardized tests like the SAT, which ‘correlate so strongly with family income. that they serve as an indicator of socio-economic status ”.

And in politics, she said, the survival of democracy depends both on tackling inequality and moving away from a “winner takes it all” approach.

“The fundamentally important question of political stability is how to get the losers to keep playing the game,” she wrote. “Political stability depends on the perception that the system is fair – to entice the losers to continue working within the system rather than trying to overthrow it”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]


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