Failure to Combat Labels Sunk Justice Nominee

By Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 1993 | Go to article overview

Failure to Combat Labels Sunk Justice Nominee


Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE day after President Clinton withdrew Lani Guinier's nomination to be the nation's top civil rights enforcer, conservative lawyer Clint Bolick could not have been more pleased to talk all about it.

For it was Mr. Bolick who fired the first salvo - a column in the Wall Street Journal titled "Clinton's Quota Queens" - after Ms. Guinier's nomination was announced April 29.

Guinier, the column stated, "sets the standard for innovative radicalism" in her views on civil rights. She "calls for racial quotas in judicial appointments" and "demands equal legislative outcomes, requiring abandonment not only of the `one person, one vote' principle, but majority rule itself," Bolick wrote.

The White House said nothing.

On the eve of Mr. Clinton's June 3 announcement that Guinier was no longer his choice, Guinier gave her first public defense: an ABC-TV "Nightline" appearance. She stated unequivocally that she does not believe in any quotas and does not have "any quarrel with majority rule."

But it was too late. Clinton was already set to pull the plug. Furthermore, it was not supposed to be Guinier's job to defend herself. The White House had asked her, as is customary with executive-branch nominations, not to give interviews before her confirmation hearing.

In the post-mortems on the Guinier flap, finger-pointing is rampant: The White House counsel's office is being blamed for not seeing that Guinier's provocative writings could cause political problems. The communications office is being blamed for not countering the conservative campaign against Guinier. And the president is being blamed for getting caught in a lose-lose situation in which he either denies his friend the opportunity to explain herself in Senate hearings, or goes ahead with hearings he fears could heighten racial polarizaJJ"j But the fatal error, Guinier's supporters say, was the White House's failure to counter the "quota queen" epithet, which worked its way into other media and into the Zeitgeist. In Newsweek's May 24 issue, an article on the Guinier nomination was titled "Crowning a `Quota Queen'?" Just as 1987 Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork never recovered from early definition by his opponents, neither did Guinier.

"After the original attack on Lani, the White House should have responded forcefully and put Bolick on the defensive," says Jim Coleman, a law professor at Duke University and friend of Guinier. "The label `quota queen' was sexist and racist."

Just as Bolick was preparing his opposition to Guinier weeks before her actual nomination, so too was Dr. Coleman working on her behalf.

"I got involved when White House staff started raising questions about her," he says. …

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