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Lani Guinier
Lani Guinier
The Tyranny of the Majority
ISBN: 0029131693
The Tyranny of the Majority
Professor Guinier spoke about her new book The Tyranny of the Majority in which she outlines her views on race relations in the U.S. She was nominated to the post of Civil Rights attorney for the Justice Department. However, her nomination was withdrawn due to a "reaction" over her early writings on civil rights representation.
The Tyranny of the Majority
Program Air Date: June 26, 1994

BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Lani Guinier, in the epilogue of your book, which comes from a speech, you say, "I have always wanted to be a civil rights lawyer," and that your father's experience at Harvard in 1929 had a big impact on you. What was his experience?
LANI GUINIER: He had applied to Harvard and was accepted but was denied financial aid, ostensibly because he had not submitted a picture with his application. But he later learned that the reason he was denied financial aid was that Harvard had a quota, a quota of one, and they'd already given a full scholarship to one black from Cambridge, and so his application was one too many.
LAMB: When did he first tell you about this?
GUINIER: That's a good question. It was certainly when I was a kid. I couldn't tell you for sure the first time. I'm not sure when he told me about going to Harvard, because he ultimately had to drop out of Harvard because it was then during the Depression and he couldn't afford the tuition. So, I don't know. I was a kid.
LAMB: You also talk about the early lesson in dignity and the inhumanity of racism. When is the first time you can remember having to suffer some indignity because of your race?
GUINIER: When I was a kid, again, there were other children on the block who didn't want to play with me or would treat me differently than my peers. At the time I did not know why they were treating me differently, but I was insulted and offended. It was only looking back on it that I could say, well, it was about race because at the time when we moved, there were no other black families living on the block. Within, I guess, about 10 or 15 years that we lived in Queens the block changed dramatically from being all white to being essentially all black.
LAMB: What kind of a family did you grow up in? What were your mother and father like?
GUINIER: My father was an intellectual. He was always talking to me about ideas, about the importance of standing for something. He was serious. His hobby, when we would go to the beach, was to take a copy of the New York Times with us. We would go to the beach and he would sit under the umbrella and read the New York Times. That was a good day at the beach for him. My mother, on the other hand, was much more into the beach or playing tennis. She was a more, I guess, social person.
LAMB: I remember reading that either one of your parents was Jewish.
GUINIER: My mother is Jewish.
LAMB: She's still alive. Your dad's . . .
GUINIER: My father died four years ago.
LAMB: Where did they meet? What kind of a life did they have together?
GUINIER: They met in Hawaii, and that's the origin of my name. I was named after the woman who introduced them, although her name was Iwalani. When my parents met, my mother was in the Red Cross and my father was in the Army. When they came back and I was born, I was named after Iwalani, but my mother was afraid that Americans would have trouble with the name so she named me Carolani. Then when people would meet me they'd say, "Oh, Carolina" or "Caroluni," so she just dropped the "Carol." And then, of course, last year when my nomination was pending, there were all sorts of plays on my name, including "Loony Lani." So even though she thought she was getting away from that 43 or 44 years ago, it came back.
LAMB: You say you were in Queens. How many years in Queens? Is that where you were born?
GUINIER: No, I was born in Manhattan, but I grew up in Queens from the age of 6 until I went away to college.
LAMB: For someone who has never been to Manhattan or Queens, what is the difference? They are both New York City.
GUINIER: The difference is that when you live in Queens you call Manhattan the city.
LAMB: What happens if you live in Manhattan? What do you call Queens?
GUINIER: You don't.
LAMB: Was there a difference in the ethnicity of those two places when you were growing up?
GUINIER: Well, there is certainly a difference in the demographics. Manhattan -- when people think of New York City they generally think of the skyscrapers, and that's Manhattan. They think of the Empire State Building; that's in Manhattan. Manhattan is a place where you have very rich and then also very poor. We lived right near Columbia, which is an area right outside of Harlem, which is also in Manhattan. Then when we moved to Queens, we moved to a working-class neighborhood. That's Archie Bunker territory. He was in Queens, although a different part of Queens. Now the area where I grew up, St. Albans, is a stable middle-class to working-class black community.
LAMB: You are currently doing what for a living?
GUINIER: I am a tenured law professor at the University of Pennsylvania law school.
LAMB: Do you teach?
GUINIER: Yes, yes, and I just got the Harvey Levin Teaching Award from my students.
LAMB: What does that mean?
GUINIER: That means that the graduating class voted me the best teacher.
LAMB: How long have you been at the University of Pennsylvania?
GUINIER: Six years.
LAMB: What kind of law do you teach?
GUINIER: I teach criminal process; I teach professional responsibility, which is ethics. I teach a course called Law in the Political Process, which is a course about the Voting Rights Act. And I teach a couple of seminars.
LAMB: When did you decide to put out this Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in a Representative Democracy?
GUINIER: Interestingly enough, the editor the Free Press, Bruce Nichols, called me about two years ago and said he had read some of my work and was interested in talking to me about a book. And then after my nomination was pulled, based in part on the misinterpretation or the reaction to some of these essays, the Free Press contacted me again, as did several other publishers. I thought it made sense to go ahead and publish these essays because I felt that the same essays that had gotten me into trouble would get me out of trouble once people actually had a chance to read them.
LAMB: Has it worked?
GUINIER: I think so, I think so. I feel, at least when I go around to talk about the book or when I meet people on the street, that the reaction is very different than the reaction right after my nomination was withdrawn. People are much more friendly and open. They feel that I was denied fundamental fairness on some level by not having a hearing, so they are certainly expressing their sympathy on that score. But they're also very intrigued. They want to know more. What were my ideas, and what was so crazy or radical about what I was saying? And then when I talk about them or when they read the book, many of them come up and say, "I really had you wrong. I misunderstood or misinterpreted you." I, in fact, had a guy come up to me just last week and apologize. He said after he had read the press accounts, he had written to his senator and his congressman saying that I should not be confirmed, and then he read an excerpt from the book and he felt horrible that he had misjudged me.
LAMB: It's been just about a year since your nomination was withdrawn. How has your life changed during that period?
GUINIER: Well, dramatically on some level and in other ways it's very much the same. I'm still teaching and I'm still enjoying that. I'm writing more articles. But as I said to you when I came to the studio, I am now recognized on the street, and people come up to me and they greet me as if I'm somebody important because they've seen me on television, and that's a dramatic change. My son and I were eating dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and a woman walked by and then did a double-take. She turned to my son, who is 7, and said, "Is that Lani Guinier?" And he said, "Yes," and she said, "Oh, is that your mom?" So she got into a whole conversation with us. He said, "Yes," and she said, "Well, are you proud of her?" He said, "No." She said, "Oh, well, I guess she's just your mom." He said, "No, that's not the reason. The reason is that she's famous, and people come up to her and start talking to her when we're in a hurry," as if to say, Can we get on with our dinner?
LAMB: You wrote, "This book is dedicated to Nolan and Nikolas Bowie, two poets in their own right." Who are those two?
GUINIER: That's my husband and my son. The reference to poets is a reference to the acknowledgment where I quoted from Chinua Achebe, who is a Nigerian novelist who said, "The poet who is not in trouble with the king is in trouble with her work." I took that as a lesson that I know what it's like to be in trouble with the king, but I hope ultimately that history will not judge me to be in trouble with my work. I also feel that my husband and my son have been poets in their own right, people of principle and people who have stood by me through this entire episode.
LAMB: What does your son, Nikolas, really make of all this?
GUINIER: Well, you may have to ask him in 20 years. It changes. I don't think he completely understands what has happened. He knows that the president offered me an important job and then the president changed his mind, and he knows that, as a result, people now recognize me on the street. And he knows that some people like me. We had a conversation -- I was having breakfast and NPR was on the radio, and my voice came on the radio. He turned to me, and he said, "Mom, why are you famous?" So we went over what had happened. He said, "Well, does that mean that people like you?" because he is really worried that since the president had changed his mind maybe that meant a lot of other people had changed their mind about who I was or what I stood for. I said, "Yes, there are many people who like me." He was so relieved, he went, "Whew."
LAMB: What grade is he in?
GUINIER: He's in first grade.
LAMB: Where does he go to school?
GUINIER: I'd rather not . . .
LAMB: What city?
GUINIER: In Philadelphia.
LAMB: The reason I asked that is, is it a mixed school?
GUINIER: "Mixed" meaning what?
LAMB: Meaning race.
GUINIER: I would like there to be more children of color, but there are some, yes.
LAMB: Has he ever said anything to you about feeling the indignity of racism?
GUINIER: He has commented on the fact that there are not more black children. He noticed that as soon as we got there and that there aren't more black teachers. He noticed that. But I don't think he has experienced anything in particular.
LAMB: Is it better for him than it was for you when you were growing up, do you think?
GUINIER: It's hard to say because he's only 7 years old. I don't really remember at the age of 6 or 7 feeling that I was being insulted or offended because of my race either.
LAMB: You do, though, at the opening of your book talk about being a Brownie at age 8. Why did you lead off with that?
GUINIER: Because I thought it was a story that many people could relate to. When I was in the Brownies -- and I was very, very proud of being a Brownie -- I was delighted to have this uniform and to get dressed up on Wednesdays to go to our Brownie troop meetings. We had a hat-making contest, and the winner of the hat-making contest was the daughter of a professional hat maker who actually made her hat in full view of all of the other participants. I was deeply offended by what I thought was a rigging of the rules, and I quit the Brownies. In fact, I told that story at a university in Florida, at Florida A & M, and a woman came up to me afterwards, and she said, "Lani, I was in your Brownie troop and I always wondered what happened to you." She remembered that same hat-making contest. Essentially, I felt that that was an example of rules being rigged that people could relate to, and I was trying to use that to show that sometimes, even when the rules appear fair, they may have the same effect as a professional milliner making the hat for her daughter. The fact that some of us may think the rules are fair doesn't mean that the effect of those rules on all of the participants is fair or is legitimate.
LAMB: What about the rules in today's American society for people who aren't white? Are they fair?
GUINIER: I don't talk about all of the rules in society, but I am primarily focused on election rules. I focus on local, state and county governments where I litigated cases when I was an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In some of those communities, no, the rules are not fair. The way that we operate with winner-take-all majority rule seems fair. It seems normal to us that the majority has more votes, so they should win. But what we don't realize is that if the majority is permanent and if the majority is essentially consolidated along racial lines, that that also means the minority is permanent, and it also means that the minority never gets to take a turn if the majority is acting as a racially homogeneous monopoly, which is what, in fact, does happen in some communities in this country still.
LAMB: You say the conservatives speak out of both sides of their mouths, and you cite some examples of George Wills' columns, talking about the minority. What happens? What do you see conservatives say about this and not about you?
GUINIER: Well, what I was suggesting by making reference to several columnists who had attacked me while my nomination was pending, is that in fact they were sympathetic to the underlying principle that I was relying on, and that is the principle of taking turns, that the majority should rule but the minority should be represented and should be respected in a way that allows both the majority to be accorded proportionate power or a fair share of power but not necessarily all of the power. An example is from South Africa, where in this new power-sharing arrangement, the black majority now is ruling, but the white minority is also participating in this government of national unity. They are getting to participate, to have a voice. They are assured not only a position as the deputy president or the vice president but also seats in the legislature and some cabinet positions. That's essentially what I was talking about, but in this country where we have the reverse, we have a white majority and a black minority.
LAMB: Do you think about being in the minority every day?
GUINIER: No, no.
LAMB: When are you most often reminded that you are in the minority?
GUINIER: That's a good question. When I am in a situation in which I am the only black person or the only woman, where my status is very visible not only to me but to the other people around me.
LAMB: Do people say uncomfortable things from time to time?
GUINIER: Not necessarily uncomfortable, but it's just the sense of being different and of being visibly different in a way that may make other people uncomfortable. Now, of course, given my recent situation, that has changed because I have a different status now. I'm not simply a black woman; I am somebody who has been on television. Television is the great healer in that sense, and it gives everyone a sense of intimacy or a sense of familiarity, so that there is an ability for people to come and see me and not feel nervous or apprehensive because on some level they feel they already know me. In that sense it has allowed me to move out of the status of simply being a minority. I think that's part of the problem for other members of a minority group, is that they can't move out of the status of being a minority. Not because people in the majority are hostile to them in particular but because of the sense of unfamiliarity and the concern that, I really don't know what to say to that person.
LAMB: If you had to do this all over again, knowing what you know now, would you do it?
LAMB: Why?
GUINIER: It was too painful. It was a nightmare. I felt I was publicly humiliated on a grand scale.
LAMB: When was the first time you knew you were even under consideration? How did you find out?
GUINIER: Well, the process for selecting nominees in this administration is very long and extended, so I guess I was told back in December right after the election that my name was on various lists that were being circulated in Washington. I was also told that, as far as the civil rights community and the women's community in Washington, I was the consensus candidate for the position of assistant attorney general for civil rights.
LAMB: What did you think of that at the time? How did you feel about that?
GUINIER: It was flattering. I was honored. I was proud.
LAMB: Who told you you were it?
GUINIER: Janet Reno.
LAMB: And what did she say? Do you remember the call?
GUINIER: I think she had called me and asked me to come and do something, and I said, "Well, I don't know that it's appropriate for me to do that yet because I haven't been officially nominated." She said, "Oh, well, I can take care of that." She then called me back and said, "Well, you're officially going to be nominated. Come down and we'll talk about it."
LAMB: You say nice things about her in the book. Do you still like her?
GUINIER: Yes. I have an enormous amount of respect for her because I think of her as a public servant who is a person of integrity and a person who is committed to a vision for the future that extends beyond her own personal ambition or career status. I really think she is a public servant in the full sense of the word. Her advice to me while my nomination was pending has been of unusual help, not only in thinking about what happened to me but in telling other young people in particular what I think the message of my experience should be. What she said is, "If you stand on principle, you cannot lose because even if you lose you still have your principles." I think on some level that's the story of my nomination, or at least I would like to think that I stood on principle and that I didn't lose. I lost a job, but then as you point out I have a job. I have a job for life. So it really wasn't about my personal story but about the larger story of what my experience meant for the American people and our inability to have a genuine, meaningful conversation about race without name-calling and finger-pointing.
LAMB: In April of 1993 you were nominated. Is that right?
LAMB: What was the job?
GUINIER: Assistant attorney general for civil rights.
LAMB: What does that job mean? How many people work for that assistant attorney general, and what does he or she do?
GUINIER: There have only been "he's," and I think about 250 lawyers under the direct supervision of the assistant attorney general for civil rights. Those lawyers are responsible for enforcing the civil rights laws that were passed by Congress, so it is a law enforcement position. In lay person's terms, it's basically Congress' cop on civil rights.
LAMB: I'm going to ask the same question I asked earlier another way: If somebody came to you in the future and said, "We want you to take this job in the government" -- a judge or another job with the Justice Department -- what would you say? Are you against ever coming into government?
GUINIER: When you say "it," it really depends what you mean. I am not opposed to public service. I consider what I am doing now public service. I think that trying to push the country forward to have this conversation about race in a way that can give people insight into how people who are unlike them in some ways are like them in others, that can allow people to move beyond the great chasm between the races. I think that's public service. But you're talking about a technical kind of government service. I'm not opposed to it in the abstract, but I am also not seeking it right now.
LAMB: You were nominated for the position, and do you remember the first moment when -- I guess you refer to it in the opening -- when this thing started to go off the rails and you knew you heard problems?
GUINIER: The day after the nomination, the Wall Street Journal had an op-ed with the headline "Clinton's Quota Queen," and then for the next week the Wall Street Journal editorialized against the nomination. I knew there was something wrong when I wasn't allowed to respond and no one else was responding, so that on some level the administration had forgotten the first rule of political campaigns: an unanswered attack becomes the truth.
LAMB: Do you know why they didn't respond?
GUINIER: I think they were distracted. There were not very many people in place yet at the Justice Department. The solicitor general, the associate attorney general, the deputy attorney general had not been confirmed, so there wasn't a group of people in place who could lend a hand. The people who were in leadership positions were distracted with their own confirmation process. I think it was an inexperienced administration, and they were not focused. They weren't listening.
LAMB: Why would one article and one newspaper by -- I assume Clinton Bolick is the fellow that wrote it. He's a committed something or other, isn't he? Does he take a point of view all the time?
LAMB: Have you ever met him?
GUINIER: I don't believe that I've ever met him, but he is a self-described radical or revolutionary. I don't know exactly how he would call himself now, but he takes a very strong position on many issues regarding civil rights. He doesn't think Thurgood Marshall is qualified for this same position, so he's certainly much, much more conservative than I am and than I hope this administration is.
LAMB: And no one would come to your aid -- no one in the government.
GUINIER: I did not get a person assigned to help me on my nomination full time until a week before the nomination was pulled.
LAMB: Did any elected politician come to your aid and say, "I'll take care of this. I'll speak for you. You can come with me. I'll take you around and introduce you to people."
GUINIER: Well, there were several people who offered to do that, but again, there had to be somebody at the Justice Department or the White House who was coordinating it because I'm not a political person, so I would need somebody who would say, "Well, Lani, I'll take you to see this person and then they'll take you see X." But there was no coordinator. There was no one in charge. There was no one home, basically.
LAMB: When was the first time you met Bill Clinton?
GUINIER: In law school.
LAMB: At Yale?
LAMB: Were you friends?
GUINIER: Yes, we were friends.
LAMB: How close?
GUINIER: Well, in law school I would say we were acquaintances. We shared some lunch conversations, and we had some very good mutual friends. I got to know him much better after law school. I went to Arkansas and sued him when I was an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and he and I worked together on several lawsuits, actually, to settle them. I got also to know Hillary since law school much better than I knew them in law school. But in law school they were people of stature. They were ahead of me, and they were people that I essentially looked up to and thought of as people of principle, people who stood for many of the things that I hoped one day to stand for.
LAMB: What year did you get out of Yale?
GUINIER: 1974.
LAMB: And you did what right away?
GUINIER: I went to clerk for Judge Damon Keith, who at the time was the chief judge of the Eastern District of Michigan, a federal judge. He's now on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
LAMB: What was that like?
GUINIER: Well, it was a great experience. I, first of all, love Detroit. That may seem odd coming from New York, especially from a city where in the famous New Yorker cartoon the people in New York can't see past the Mississippi River, but what I loved about Detroit is that people there are so warm and so friendly. I remember the first or second day that I was on the job, I was taking a bus and was just sitting, minding my own business the way New Yorkers are trained to do, and the bus driver turned in my direction and looked at me and said, "How did your pictures come out?" I, of course, assumed that he was talking to the person to my right or my left so I just ignored him, and he was insistent. He had, in fact, seen me at a camera store getting my pictures developed. Well, I can't imagine that kind of experience in New York where people are conditioned, essentially, to be anonymous and invisible.
LAMB: What was the judge like?
GUINIER: He has become a surrogate father figure for me. He was a mentor. He was somebody who also, I think, stands on principle.
LAMB: Black or white?
GUINIER: He is black.
LAMB: What did he teach you?
GUINIER: His favorite comment when he had a tough decision was, "Well, Lani, we've got to bite the bullet," and basically he told me, or taught me, that sometimes you had to make the hard calls but that's what being a person of principle was all about.
LAMB: Did you learn anything then that led to your ideas on how the laws should be changed so that the minority has a fair shot at it?
GUINIER: I don't recall that we had any voting rights cases during the two years that I clerked for him. I really don't remember any.
LAMB: Where did you go after that?
GUINIER: Then I was a referee in juvenile court in Wayne County.
LAMB: Michigan.
LAMB: How long?
GUINIER: For a year.
LAMB: What did you learn there?
GUINIER: Well, I think the first thing I learned is not to run into anybody in the supermarket that I had sentenced to the juvenile home because they would come up to me and say, "Oh, hello, Referee Guinier," and I wouldn't remember what it was that I had done with regard to their particular case. But I think what I learned is the limitations of the government's ability to intervene in the lives of some of the young people in our society. We had so few options, and we were confronted on a daily basis with children in such pain. I thought that I would be most invested and most involved in the delinquency cases, but it was the dependency and neglect cases that really tore at me emotionally because these were kids who were not being reared properly by their parents. There really were not pleasant or appropriate options, and yet we were being asked somehow to sit in judgment and to make a choice, and there were no good choices. So it was a very, very depressing and painful experience. I was 26 at the time.
LAMB: Along the way are you staying in touch with the Clintons?
GUINIER: Along the way?
LAMB: In other words, at age 25 or 26 and in these new jobs. When did you next get in touch with them?
GUINIER: Probably when I was working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
LAMB: When did that happen, in what year?
GUINIER: In 1981.
LAMB: What did you do between being the referee until the time you went to the Legal Defense Fund?
GUINIER: Then I worked in the Justice Department as the special assistant to Drew Days when he was assistant attorney general for civil rights, the same job that I was nominated to hold last year.
LAMB: He is now the solicitor general.
GUINIER: That's correct.
LAMB: What was that experience like?
GUINIER: Well, that was an eye-opening experience, both about the power and majesty of the Justice Department, that when the Justice Department took a position it was significant, it was symbolic, it was more than just a case, an argument or a brief being filed in a particular court. It was really a message, a symbolic statement to the American people. But I also learned again about the limitations of government and the fact that you can't look to the government to solve all of the problems. There were so many things that the Justice Department couldn't do anything about because, again, as I said, the Justice Department's civil rights division is Congress' cop. It's an enforcement agency so if the laws do not give the Justice Department authorization to proceed, even though people may bring complaints or concerns to the attention of the department, there is nothing that can be done as far as the government is concerned. So in many ways it was similar to being a referee where you see great pain and you see great unfairness, and there is essentially very little that you can do.
LAMB: We talked about some of this earlier, but during these years did you feel racism? Can you remember instances when people would do something that would just make you mad, make you angry?
GUINIER: You know, I don't dwell on racist experiences, which is not to say that I haven't had any. But one of the lessons that my mother taught me when I was a kid is to try to take myself out of my own skin and out of my own shoes and step into somebody else's shoes and try to see where they're coming from. And so even when somebody might do something to me that I thought was really unfair and that may have been motivated by prejudice or bias, I would often try to see where they're coming from and then see if there was some way we could move the conversation or the experience to another plane rather than to sort of wallow in the sense of victimhood. I just don't like to see myself as a victim. I see myself, really, as a survivor.
LAMB: Stephen Carter wrote your introduction for this book.
LAMB: Who is he, and why did you choose him?
GUINIER: He is a professor at Yale Law School. He is a very well respected professor, and he also is a very good writer. One of the reasons I asked him to write the introduction is that I knew that some law professors have trouble speaking in clear English, but because he has published several books and has a reputation of being both a person of integrity and principle and an independent thinker -- I don't agree with him on many issues, and he doesn't agree with me, but I think we respect each other as scholars, and I also respected his ability to communicate what he believes in a language and in a voice that would reach many people.
LAMB: You don't agree on many things, the two of you?
LAMB: What would you say is the fundamental difference in your politics?
GUINIER: Oh, I don't think that it's a bright line. He wrote a book just recently called The Confirmation Mess, and there were parts of the book that I read that I disagreed with. I wrote him a five-page, single-spaced letter explaining to him how I disagreed. But on the other hand, there were many things in the book that I agreed with, so I wouldn't say that it can be simply put as black or white or left or right.
LAMB: He says in the introduction that "Carol Moseley Braun, the only African-American on the Judiciary Committee, refused to meet with Guinier or to make a public comment." Is that true?
GUINIER: Well, she did not meet with me. That's true. In fact, after my nomination was withdrawn, she made a public comment that seemed to be sympathetic or supportive of the administration's decision.
LAMB: Did you ever talk to her about this?
GUINIER: Afterwards? No.
LAMB: Do you know her?
GUINIER: I have talked to her. There was brief period after I was on "Nightline" and before the president made his decision, when I called her and her aides got her on the phone right away. I had been trying up till then to get an appointment with her and was unsuccessful. But then during this period after I was on "Nightline" I did have a conversation with her.
LAMB: Did the position that she took surprise you?
LAMB: Stephen Carter also says you -- he uses the pronoun she -- "She believed opponents' charge that white Americans remained implacably hostile to black progress." Did I read that right?
GUINIER: Did you read it right?
LAMB: Yes. Do you agree with that, ". . . opponents' charge that white Americans remain implacably hostile to black progress. She was said, moreover, to have described black Republicans as only descriptively and not authentically black"?
GUINIER: When you say, do I agree with that or did you read it right, it is true that that's what people said about me. It is not true that that's what I believe.
LAMB: What do you believe?
GUINIER: I believe that no one is irredeemably anything, so the claim that white Americans are implacably hostile to black progress is not something that I believe. I certainly have seen parts of this country in which the majority, who is white, have refused to cooperate with the minority, who is black, and have done more than refuse to cooperate. They have deliberately excluded the minority. I had a case in Louisiana in which the black legislators were deliberately excluded from the key reapportionment meeting, and we put members of the Louisiana Senate, staff on the witness stand who, number one, admitted that they had deliberately not invited the black lawmakers, although everyone else who had an interest in the plan had been invited. And then they said the reason that they didn't invite the black lawmakers to this critical meeting is that they knew that they, the black legislators, would not like the outcome. So I have seen instances. People have been even more blatant in their language. In this same case, one of the white legislators was adamant that he did not want to see "another nigger big shot" in Louisiana because "they already have one nigger mayor." Does he represent all people in Louisiana? No, but he represented a key player in this particular case, and because of his influence I believed race was a factor in the decision as to how to draw the lines in that particular congressional reapportionment.
LAMB: I know you write a lot of ideas in here -- if you could change one or two things right now that would make this a fairer place to live, what would it be?
GUINIER: You mean just with a wave of the wand?
LAMB: In other words, some of the ideas you have here that you would like to see instituted, where would you start? What would you do?
GUINIER: If I could . . .
LAMB: . . . pass a law.
GUINIER: . . . just pass a law, and this was a one-person legislature and a one-person judiciary and a one-person executive, and I played all three roles?
LAMB: To make it fairer.
GUINIER: First of all, I don't think it would be fair to have one person making this decision, and I do consider myself a democratic idealist. So part of the difficulty in answering your question is that I believe the people should make that judgment and that part of the problem in this society is that we don't give the American people the opportunity to make an informed judgment as to what represents a fair system for electing representatives. That's number one. But assuming that people came to me and sought my advice and I were in a position to influence that judgment, I think it would be fairer if we moved to a system of more proportional representation, not like Israel where 1 percent of the people are assured a seat in the Knesset because that may be too fractured, but not like the United States where 51 percent of the people are assured 100 percent of the power and can use that power to ignore or exclude the other 49 percent. I think there is something in the middle, between 1 percent getting a seat in the Knesset and 49 percent getting nothing. I would like to see a situation in which we had more diverse views represented in our local city councils and county commissions and in which we had more active political involvement and a more energized electorate at the local level and the national level. The saddest thing to me, and in a way it's deeply ironic, was to look at the lines of people waiting to vote in South Africa and understanding that it was an historic occasion for many blacks, and therefore, this may represent a singular moment in South African history because they had not ever been allowed to vote before. But I think there were also people, whites who were voting not for the first time who were willing to stand in line, unlike people in the United States. Part of the reason that people in South Africa are willing to stand in line to vote and people in the United States don't bother is because in South Africa everyone's vote counts toward the election of someone, whereas in the United States in our winner-take-all system 49 percent of the people may essentially be wasting their vote if they vote for somebody who doesn't get elected. We do not give the person who comes in second any power. We tell the person who comes in second, "You lost and you get nothing." That's fair as long as the person who comes in second has a reasonable shot at coming in first the next time. It's unfair when the person who comes in second or third is consigned to second or third status forever, permanently. They never have a shot at coming in first. We're basically saying in this democracy that some of the people can rule all of the time and other of the people don't get any power, ever.
LAMB: By the way, I thought Free Press was a lot of conservative books.
GUINIER: They do publish some very conservative books, but the head of the Free Press, who just died recently, was a man committed to ideas, and he said to me that he read my essays and that he respected my intellectual honesty and my effort to open up the conversation about democracy.
LAMB: If somebody does pay the $24.95, what do they get?
GUINIER: They get a collection of the essays that got me into trouble in the first place. I wrote an introduction that pulls the ideas together, and I also included an epilogue which, as you point out, was the speech that I gave after my nomination was withdrawn. I decided to include that speech because one of my neighbors, a young girl in the sixth grade, was told by her teacher that she had to memorize the speech by an important person in the 20th century and present it to class, and she asked me for a copy of that speech because she wanted to present it to her class. So I was both flattered and honored that she was interested, and I thought, well, maybe there are other people who would also like to see the way somebody can experience a disappointment but still be committed to the dissemination of ideas.
LAMB: I think you gave the young lady's name. Is it Kirsten Barton?
LAMB: Kirsten Barton, age 11, sixth grade, neighbor . . .
LAMB: . . . and that's why you put the epilog in.
LAMB: There are 112 pages of notes. How come? Is that a professor's way of covering everything?
GUINIER: One of the things that law professors do when they write an article is that they use the footnotes to expound on some of the ideas in the text. If you write a good article, it's almost as if you have written two -- there is the text, and then there is the article in the footnotes. For those who want the simple version, they can just read the text. For those who want to really engage with the ideas and are also interested, possibly, in reading other works that deal with the same ideas, they can read the footnotes.
LAMB: Is it fair to say that one of the ways you describe what you believe in is by discussing what the Reagan-Bush years were all about, in other words, what you liked? There is a whole chapter on "Lines in the Sand" and Charles Fried. Why did you decide to put that in the book?
GUINIER: This is a book review of a book that he wrote when he was the solicitor general for Ronald Reagan. One of the things that the Reagan administration did, and one of the ideas that is embodied in his book, is this notion of a unilateral executive. It's a notion that I describe using a triangle, where you have a chief executive who is at the apex of the triangle, and the administrative agencies and the executive branch agencies are subordinate to the chief executive. And then you also have, again, in the Reagan administration, idea of separation of powers -- an upright triangle -- and in their vision you have the president at the top of the triangle and the judiciary and the Congress at the subordinate angles of the triangle. Part of what I was doing in critiquing that image is imagining sharing of power, or separation of powers, as a circle, as a system of checks and balances in which you don't have one branch that is superior to the others, but you essentially have a more fluid arrangement. That was a way of demonstrating or symbolizing or making tangible my idea of power sharing, of having winners get something but losers also getting something; that you don't have to think of everything as hierarchical, in which only one person can be in charge and everyone else has to be subordinate, but you can start thinking about shared power in which all three branches are contributing by checking and restraining the impulse of one branch perhaps to exceed its authority, but also by infusing the process with their own perspective.
LAMB: You went to the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP for how long?
GUINIER: Seven and a half years.
LAMB: And then you went where?
GUINIER: To the University of Pennsylvania law school, where I am now.
LAMB: The picture that we all remember during the time you were in the spotlight was you and your husband and the president and his wife. What year was that?
GUINIER: This is the picture from my wedding? That was in 1986.
LAMB: How much time did you spend with Bill Clinton in those years? Why was he there?
GUINIER: At my wedding? He was invited.
LAMB: What was the reason? You mentioned earlier that you sued him at one point in the state of Arkansas, but how was he such a friend, or the two of them friends, that they came to your wedding?
GUINIER: We had established some rapport as a result of that lawsuit, and they, as I said, also had a number of mutual friends. So I had invited a number of people from Yale Law School, including them, and all of them came.
LAMB: Who is your husband and where did you meet him?
GUINIER: He is a professor at Temple. He is a professor of telecommunications, and I met him in Washington, D.C., when he was the head of a public interest communications law firm. He is a lawyer, although he is not practicing right now, and he is also an artist.
LAMB: That was 1986.
GUINIER: That we got married, yes.
LAMB: Did you think at that time that Bill Clinton would be president someday?
LAMB: What about him made you think that?
GUINIER: Frankly, I thought he was going to be president when he was in law school. He just seemed to be running for president. That was not only my impression but that of others. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. I don't mean that as someone who is consumed with a singular ambition, but I do mean it in the sense of someone who had his eye on a larger prize than most other people.
LAMB: Did you work in the '92 campaign?
LAMB: When was the first time you ever talked to him about this job of assistant attorney general?
GUINIER: The first substantive conversation that we had about the position was the night he withdrew my nomination.
LAMB: Did you meet him face to face?
LAMB: How long did you spend with him?
GUINIER: About an hour and a half.
LAMB: What did you think of that conversation?
GUINIER: Well, it was a hard conversation. It was a painful conversation. I thought he was listening carefully to what I was saying. I thought he understood what I was saying, and indeed after the conversation was over he said he didn't have a problem with what I was saying in describing my ideas and in describing the articles that I had written.
LAMB: What happened after you left?
GUINIER: You'd have to ask him. He called me on the telephone, I guess an hour, maybe 45 minutes later, and told me that I had made the best case he can imagine but I had not changed his mind.
LAMB: What was your reaction to that?
GUINIER: I was in shock.
LAMB: Has anything changed in that last year since that time? Have you changed your thoughts about what happened to you?
GUINIER: Do you mean am I still in shock? I don't think I'm still in shock. What do you mean?
LAMB: Do you feel differently about it? Would you have done anything differently?
GUINIER: I don't think I was in a position to control the outcome of my nomination because, as I said, the administration was distracted. I was saying from the very beginning, "I want to have a press conference. I want to go out and tell the American people who I am. I want to define myself. I don't want to be defined by people who are political opponents of this administration." But I was not given that chance, so it's not as if I didn't have that idea and now having that idea I might have been able to redirect the course of history.
LAMB: If Bill Clinton runs again in '96, can you vote for him?
GUINIER: It would depend on a number of circumstances, including who is running against him.
LAMB: Have you talked to him since that last conversation?
LAMB: Do you think he owes you anything?
GUINIER: I'm not so concerned about what he owes me or what he might say to me on a personal level because I assume at some point we will have a personal conversation. I am more concerned about what I believe he owes the American people in terms of playing the role of moral leader on issues of civil rights. I feel that he has a tremendous intellectual commitment to the issues of civil rights, but I have not seen a political commitment to those issues. I fear that he is being advised by people around him who are more concerned about public opinion polls than doing what is right. So in that sense I feel disappointed in the direction that the administration is taking on issues of race. I don't hear them talking about issues of race and racism. I think the American people are desperate for a leader with a moral vision about race who can have a national conversation. I think he's a great communicator, and he could lead a conversation about race. He could heal this country, but unfortunately, some of his advisers seem convinced that there is a segment of the American people that I would call the Reagan Democrats, who are irrevocably racist or intolerant or hostile to issues of African-Americans and other racial minorities. And so rather than stir that pot, they have determined that they will not talk about race. They'll talk around it and they'll talk about other issues that may implicate race, but they won't directly engage the subject. I feel that, first of all, people are not irrevocably anything -- that's what I said to you earlier -- and I also believe that people want to learn how to do better, how to get along with people who are unlike them. They did a study in Boston of parents who were asked across racial and ethnic lines, "What is it that you want for your kids?" and the first thing that they wanted is that they wanted their kids to learn how to swim. And then they wanted their kids to do better than they had in terms of going to college. Then the third thing that they wanted is that they wanted their kids to learn skills that they did not have, and one of those skills was how to get along with people who are different. They didn't have that skill, but they wanted it for their kids.
LAMB: Now that you're known and you have to have a disguise when you go out in public, now that you have a book and you have tenure as a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, do you have other goals, new goals that have come up in the last year?
GUINIER: One of my goals is to try to push for this conversation on race. I believe in what I guess you would call the therapeutic model of conflict resolution, which is that you don't suppress things that are bothering you. You don't ignore them. You engage them in a safe space, and you try to deal with them and then move on. I would like to see us do that along the lines that I just described -- having a big national conversation about race where people of many different perspectives are arranged around a table and learn how to talk to each other, and modeling that conversation for many people who are desperate for moral leadership and want to see this country healed along racial lines.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. Our guest has been Lani Guinier, and the title of this is The Tyranny of the Majority. We thank you for joining us.
GUINIER: Thank you very much for having me.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.