Critical Race Theory: How Lani Guinier fell victim to the anti-CRT movement

The concept of CRT first entered public discourse when Bill Clinton withdrew his nomination of Lani Guinier for Assistant Attorney General


                            Critical Race Theory: How Lani Guinier fell victim to the anti-CRT movement
Lani Guinier was the first woman of color with a tenured position at Harvard Law School (John Mathew Smith for Getty Images)

June marks the onset of rodeos and street fairs and cookouts with glorious family reunions, and of course, pageants in some places, as America celebrates Juneteenth. Marking the emancipation of the last slaves in the Confederacy, Juneteenth is often mistaken as the day slavery ended. Ironic, considering over 130 years since the historic June 19, of 1886, 21st century is still infested with lawmakers going to war against Critical Race Theory (CRT) which enables the examination of social, cultural, and legal issues with respect to race and religion.

As recently as January this year, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Keith Ammon, introduced a bill barring schools and organizations that enter the state's contractual endorsing of “divisive concepts," forbidding “race or sex scapegoating", or even suggesting that the state is “fundamentally racist".

But amidst the ongoing debate and physical brawls surrounding the inclusion of CRT in US public school curriculums, it is interesting to note however that the concept of CRT first entered public discourse, courtesy of a law professor called Lani Guinier.

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In the early 1990s, when the then-POTUS Bill Clinton had nominated Guinier to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, anti-CRT Republicans dubbed her the "Quota Queen". And decades later, the same sentiments from anti-CRT movement Republicans, that Guinier fell victim to, resonate in Ammon's newly introduced bill.

When Clinton had nominated Guinier as the Assistant Attorney General, she was working as a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor. Guinier had made a name for herself as the first woman of color to be appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School. The 71-year-old civil rights theorist had always managed to earn the distaste of the anti-CRT movement - starting with her nomination, which saw the launch of a scathing campaign from Republicans attempting to smear her credibility for the position.

In an article published on June 2, 1993, Clint Bolick, the then-director of the Institute for Justice, alleged Guinier was tied to CRT, which according to him was "a profoundly left-wing school of thought that has redefined the outer boundaries of radicalism in legal academia".

The first article was published through the Wall Street Journal, and several similar ones followed to besmirch Guinier's nomination. Apart from slamming her as the token woman in office or the "Quota Queen", anti-CRT Republicans also accused Guinier of “championing a radical school of thought called ‘critical race theory.’"

Rosa Parks with Lani Guinier at 1993 march on Washington (Josh Matthew Smith/Creative Commons)

The anti-CRT movement ultimately succeeded with their smear campaign against Guinier, as Clinton withdrew her nomination two days later on June 4, 1993. Clinton cited at the time that he allegedly had some disagreements with Guinier's legal philosophy. This was after Clinton and the very highly respected Guinier already had a close friendship after meeting each other all the way back at Yale Law School.

But Clinton's decision to withdraw Guinier's nomination has been argued to be a result of not just conservative Republicans slamming her. According to Prospect.org, even current left-favoured President Joe Biden was among those who expressed skepticism about Guinier's appointment. The outlet adds that even Edward Kennedy, known as "one of the Senate's most stalwart liberals, distanced himself."

Guinier's writings, which Clinton disagreed with, condemned Republicans who "refused to court the black vote at all". The professor also alleges mainstream Democrats, for having "taken blacks for granted", adding that they "do not accept black Democrats [...] as legitimate party spokespersons." Slamming past presidential campaigns, Guinier further attacked: "the vision Democrats offered in 1988 hardly mentioned, even indirectly, problems of race, and . . . deliberately ignored connections between racism and poverty." 

In an except from her book 'Keeping the Faith', Guinier drops explosive opinions on why race should be considered in legal decision making, writing: "The Congress can play an important role in encouraging diversity in the appointment process by withholding its advice and consent until enough nominations have been made to establish a pattern of 'affirmative recruitment'."

Her book also suggests: "The Senate Judiciary Committee should begin evaluating federal judicial nominations with reference to specific goals for increasing non-white nominees. The Committee should decline to consider any nominee until a sufficient number of nominations--such as twenty or thirty--were made so as to enable the Committee to consider not only the individual qualifications of each, but the impact of these twenty or thirty nominations as a totality on the composition of the federal bench.

These words from Guinier eventually ended up widening her clash with the ideals of the New Democrats. The most notable instance of the clash between Guinier and those in office was a New York Times article where former president Jimmy Carter's secretary of health Joe Califano wrote: "The rebirth of the national Democratic Party does not mean abandoning or even tempering our commitment to social and economic justice."

As a snide remark at Guinier's opinions, Califano asserted: "Taking over the White House would mean "enduring the painful labor of asking why so many whites perceive us as the party of blacks and special interests, soft on crime and naive about defense."

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