Lani Guinier, a legal scholar once nominated by President Bill Clinton as assistant attorney general and the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship at the famed Harvard Law School, died Friday. She was 71.
Her cousin Sherrie Russell-Brown confirmed that Guinier died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Guinier displayed a keen interest in voting rights, and her strong views garnered such opposition that President Clinton withdrew her nomination.
But the civil rights advocate never stopped championing her views that included the thought that one person, one vote, was insufficient in a system where those in the majority derailed the interests of African Americans and other minorities.
“When I walk through the train to the snack bar, many people seem to recognize me — and these are men, women, whites, Blacks, Republicans, Democrats,” Guinier told The New York Times in 1993. “People come up and say, ‘I disagree with everything you have said, but I think you should have had a hearing, and I admire the way you handled the situation.'”
A tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier spoke openly about injustice, including helping to keep in the public’s eye the case of the Wilmington 10 up until the activist group’s 2012 pardon by North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue.
“She really helped the Wilmington 10. I am so sad to hear about her death,” said Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the leader of the Wilmington 10 and president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Guinier worked in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and then headed the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s.
She published such scholarly articles and books as “The Tyranny of the Majority,” “Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School and Institutional Change,” and “Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice.”
According to her biography, she addressed race, gender, and democratic decision-making issues. In addition, she sought new ways of approaching questions like affirmative action while calling for candid public discourse on these topics.
Guinier earned recognition, awards, and ten honorary degrees from and by ten honorary degrees from Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College and the University of the District of Columbia.
Her excellence in teaching was honored by the 1994 Harvey Levin Teaching Award from the graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the 2002 Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence from Harvard Law School.
“A loss that means more to me than words can say,” tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Civil rights attorney, professor, my mentor, member of our @NAACP_LDF family. A mother of the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. A scholar of uncompromising brilliance. Rest In Peace and Power, dear Lani.”
According to the Yale Law School statement, Guinier is survived by her husband, son, daughter-in-law, stepdaughter, grandchild, sisters and nephews.