Lani Guinier, Prominent Civil Rights Attorney and Legal Scholar, Passes Away at 71

Image: Lindsay Brice/Getty Images.

Lani Guinier, a progressive civil rights lawyer and prominent legal scholar, has passed away, ABC News reports. She was 71.

On Friday, John F. Manning, Dean of Harvard Law School, confirmed her passing in a message to students and faculty. In an email, her cousin Sherrie Russell-Brown said that the cause of death was complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Carol Lani Guinier was born April 19, 1950, in New York City to a family of activists and legal minds. Her father, Ewart Guinier, was the first chairman of Harvard University’s Department of Afro-American Studies. Her mother, Eugenia “Genii” Paprin Guinier, became a civil rights activist. Her parents, a Black man and a white, Jewish woman, were married at a time when interracial marriage was still an illegal act in many states.

Growing up in this kind of environment, Guinier was destined to pursue legal studies as her vocation.

“I have always wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. This lifelong ambition is based on a deep-seated commitment to democratic fair play—to playing by the rules as long as the rules are fair. When the rules seem unfair, I have worked to change them, not subvert them,” she wrote in her 1994 book, Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy.

Guinier received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1971 and earned her J.D. degree from Yale Law School in 1974. She served as a special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration and later became head of the Voting Rights Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

In 1993, Guinier was nominated by President Bill Clinton as the United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights but he later withdrew the nomination in the face of conservative attacks on her scholarship, political ideology, and her race.

Guinier was Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for ten years, before joining Harvard Law School in 1998 as the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, making her the first Black woman to be granted tenure at the school. Upon retiring, she became professor emeritus in 2017.

A prolific writer, she was the author of five books and over two dozen academic articles.

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund head Sherrilyn Ifill paid tribute to Guinier’s significant accomplishments in her remarkable 40-year career on Twitter.

“A loss that means more to me than words can say,” her tweet read. “Civil rights atty, 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.”

Guinier is survived by her husband, Nolan Bowie, son, Nikolas Bowie, also a Harvard law school professor, a stepdaughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

We extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Lani Guinier.

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