Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice

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9780743253512: Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice
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In 1993, shortly after his inauguration, new President Bill Clinton nominated his old friend and classmate Lani Guinier to the prestigious and crucial post of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

That nomination sparked an immediate firestorm of criticism from the right, labeling Professor Guinier the "Quota Queen" and assailing her for the ideas expressed in her publications, most of which her opponents had not read, or had taken out of context and misunderstood.

In the face of this concerted opposition -- what one friend of Guinier's called "a low-tech lynching" -- Clinton backed down, not only withdrawing her nomination, but having refused throughout to give her an opportunity to speak out in her own defense (and his). The result was a civil rights setback of monumental proportions.

Now, in this remarkable and important book, at once a memoir and insider's account of what really happened behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Senate, and an insightful look at the past, present, and future of civil rights in America, Lani Guinier at last breaks her silence.

Unsparing of her own mistakes and shrewdly perceptive about the overt and hidden agendas of those who opposed her, Professor Guinier shows how the president promptly abandoned his ambitious agenda for civil rights at the first hint of criticism from the media and Congress -- and how the civil rights movement suffered a major setback as a result.

More important, this book, in Professor Guinier's own words, is about "the battles fought in the belief that our racial history and our commitment to equality and democracy are essential parts of the same story. It has not always been a pretty story, nor one that follows an inevitable path.

"This book is not, however, an effort to settle scores. It's a story of the efforts of men and women who believe fundamentally in the promise of the American creed and who act on that belief in their everyday lives.

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Review:

When Bill Clinton nominated University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Lani Guinier to the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993, she was immediately beset upon by right-wing critics of the president. Taking her writings on cumulative and proportional voting out of context, they branded her a "quota queen." Guinier, on instructions from administration officials, made almost no effort to defend herself against this public smearing of her work and reputation. Then, to her surprise, Clinton himself withdrew her nomination, stating in a press conference that her views were "undemocratic."

The Tyranny of the Majority reprinted the articles that were the source of this controversy. Now, in Lift Every Voice, Professor Guinier explains the principles underlying those writings in layman's terms and offers her personal perspective on what happened in the spring and summer of 1993, taking us behind the scenes to meetings with Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, and other Washington officials. But perhaps more importantly, she writes about how, after she was cut loose by an intimidated White House, she regained her confidence in the civil rights movement. Recalling the activism of ordinary people like her father and the clients she represented as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Guinier reminds us that a better society cannot be built by governmental edict alone, but requires commitment on the part of the citizenry. A recent book on mathematics, K.C. Cole's The Universe and the Teacup, vindicated Guinier's theories on proportional representation at the statistical level. The debate sparked by Lift Every Voice may, in the long run, end up vindicating her at the political level as well.

About the Author:

Lani Guinier lectures widely on issues of civil rights, social justice, and democracy. Currently Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, she will join the faculty at Harvard Law School, beginning in Fall 1998. The author of The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy and coauthor of Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law Schools and Institutional Change, she now lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son.

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