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Wed, 04.19.1950

Lani Guinier, Lawyer, and Educator born

Lani Guinier

Lani Guinier was born on this date in 1950.  She was a Black Jewish educator, lawyer, author, administrator, and activist.

Born Carol Lani Guinier in New York City, she is the daughter of Ewart (a history professor) and Genii Guinier.  When Guinier was born, her father, still studying law, supported his family in real estate and insurance sales. She and her sisters attended public schools.  An ambitious student, she eventually graduated third in a class of over 1,000 at Andrew Jackson High School.  Her community was a culturally rich, urban milieu where she learned to value African American identity and solidarity.

Guinier received her B.A. Harvard-Radcliffe College in 71, and her J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1974. She worked as a law clerk for Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Detroit, MI, from 1974-76; juvenile court referee, Wayne County Juvenile Court, Detroit, 1976-77; special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days, Civil Rights Division, U.S.

She also worked at the Department of Justice from 1977-81 and as an assistant counsel to NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1981-88. During that time, Guinier married Nolan A. Bowie in (1986), and they have a son Niklas. She was an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, 1985-89; a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1988.

On April 29, 1993, she was nominated by President Clinton for the post of assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice; her nomination was withdrawn on June 3, 1993. She was also appointed tenured professor at Harvard Law School in 1998.  Guinier's moment in the history of the American government was guaranteed when she withdrew her nomination to the Justice Department's top civil rights post in 1993, bowing to a hailstorm of conservative controversy.   An array of colliding circumstances led Guinier to lose her chance for confirmation to the post of assistant attorney general. However, Guinier then regained the recognition of a mainstream audience that had been largely ill-informed about her political theories for months.

She has been honored with various awards, 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, and the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association of Affirmative Action. Guinier has received ten honorary degrees from Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College, and the University of the District of Columbia. She has also been recognized for excellence in teaching with the 1994 Harvey Levin Teaching Award at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Since 2001, Guinier has been working on issues of fairness in higher education and coined the term "confirmative action" to re-conceptualize diversity, fairness, and affirmative action issues. The process of confirmative action, she says, "ties diversity to the admissions criteria for all students, whatever their race, gender, or ethnic background, including people of color, working-class whites, and even children of privilege."

In 2002 she received the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence from Harvard Law School. In 2007 she delivered the Yale Law School Fowler Harper Lecture entitled, “The Political Representative as Powerful Stranger: Challenges for Democracy.” In 2007, she was honored to speak and march on the campus of Grand Valley State University for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Lani Guinier died on January 7, 2022.


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