Professor Lani Guinier

In July 1998 when she joined the faculty, Lani Guinier became the first black woman tenured professor in Harvard Law School’s history. Her appointment was another milestone in a distinguished legal career. There was personal irony attending Guinier’s Harvard appointment:Her Jamaican-born father Ewart Guinier was appointed chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard in 1969, more than 35 years after leaving there as a disillusioned student who was not spoken to by any of his white classmates or called on in class and was not allowed to live on campus. The elder Guinier continued his education, earning advanced degrees from Columbia University and New York University.

Professor Guinier first came to public attention in 1993 when President Clinton nominated her to be the first black woman to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. She had been a civil rights attorney for more than ten years and had served in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration as special assistant to then Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days. Immediately after her name was put forward in 1993, conservatives virulently attacked Guinier’s views on democracy and voting, driving Clinton to withdraw her nomination without a confirmation hearing. That experience led Guinier to use her subsequent public platform to speak out on issues of race, gender and democratic decision-making and to call for candid public discourse on these issues. She is one of the nation’s most sought after speakers on these subjects. Guinier has written extensively in law review articles, books (The Tyranny of the Majority, 1994; Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law Schools and Institutional Change, 1995), and op-ed pieces about new ways of approaching old problems, including issues of affirmative action, the “testocracy,” gender equity, and race conscious political districting. She also authored a personal and political memoir, Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice (Simon and Schuster 1998), in which she uses the nomination debacle as a window on the civil rights movement past, present, and future. She along with University of Texas colleague Gerald Torres, recently wrote, THE MINERS CANARY: Rethinking Race and Power, published by Harvard University Press in 2002.

A graduate of Radcliffe College and Yale University Law School, Guinier was inspired at a young age by trailblazing civil rights attorney, Constance Baker Motley. As a youth, Guinier saw Baker Motley on television courageously escorting James Meredith through a jeering white crowd to integrate the University of Mississippi in 1962. Following in Baker Motley’s footsteps, Guinier joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In the 1980’s, she headed LDF’s Voting Rights program, litigating cases throughout the South.

Before joining the Harvard Law School faculty, Guinier was a tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania for 10 years. At Harvard, Prof. Guinier teaches courses on professional responsibility for public lawyers, law and the political process, and critical perspectives on race, gender, class and social change. Guinier has been recognized for her achievements with many awards and accolades, including: the Champion of Democracy Award from the National Women's Political Caucus; the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession; the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association of Affirmative Action; the Big Sisters Award; the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence from Harvard Law School; and the Harvey Levin Teaching Award, given to her by her students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Minerscanary.org is Prof. Guinier’s second online venture. In 1996, with funding from the Mott and Ford Foundations, she launched RaceTalks Initiatives with frequent collaborator Professor Susan Sturm. RaceTalks grew from their desire to engage groups in sometimes difficult dialogue around issues of race and gender equity. www.racetalks.org  Similarly, minerscanary.org is designed not only to sound an early warning signal of toxic conditions in democracy’s “mines,” but to use that learning to shift paradigms about race and gender and to stimulate new ways of promoting collective action and community engagement.

Hear  Lani Guiner  interviewed by Kojo Nnamdi, WAMU, Public Radio, click  here   (scroll down  to Friday April 12th, 1pm "Lani Guinier" and click on "listen.")  Lani Guinier says that "race is the canary in the coal mine." Her solution? Take away the variable of race, and change the atmosphere in the coal mine. She joins Kojo to explain. 

Professor Guinier speaks on the topic of "Transforming Democracy with Cross-Racial Coalitions" at The Commonwealth Club of California, March 18, 2002.  Click   here  (key in "Guinier" in the search box on the top right of the page)