Clinton Withdraws Guinier as Nominee for Civil Rights Job : Justice Department: The President says he only lately read her legal writings. He decided she stood for principles he could not support in a divisive confirmation battle.
President Clinton withdrew the nomination of C. Lani Guinier to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department Thursday night, saying he had belatedly read the nominee’s legal writings and had concluded that she stood for principles he could not support.
Clinton acted after days of effort by White House aides, including extensive and public signals of lack of support, failed to persuade Guinier to withdraw on her own. The nominee, with the apparent support of Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, insisted until the end--an angry, hourlong meeting in the Oval Office Thursday night--that she be given a chance to defend her views before the Senate and the nation.
The “painful” session, the first face-to-face encounter between the former Yale Law School classmates since Clinton nominated her, “was one of the most difficult meetings I have had in my life but I have done what I think is right,” the President said at a press conference announcing his decision.
Looking morose, his face flushed and his customary grin conspicuously absent, Clinton was flanked by equally somber-faced aides. Alexis Herman, the top-ranking black aide in Clinton’s White House, appeared to fight back tears as the President spoke, while Bruce Lindsey, his longtime friend and personnel chief, sat at the side of the room with his eyes fixed on the floor.
Guinier’s writings had come under blistering attack from conservatives and Senate Democrats had indicated that they would have trouble confirming her.
“I cannot fight a battle that I know is divisive, that is an uphill battle, that is distracting to the country if I did not believe in the ground of the battle,” Clinton said.
Some of Guinier’s positions have been distorted by her enemies, Clinton declared, and her opponents had engaged in a “vicious series of willful distortions.”
But even a fair reading of her views indicated “ideas which I myself cannot embrace,” he said.
Clinton mentioned in particular an article Guinier had written for the University of Michigan law review that “seemed to be arguing for principles of proportional representation and minority veto” in legislative bodies--notions that he said are “inconsistent” with his own beliefs.
For weeks before Clinton announced the nomination of the 43-year-old University of Pennsylvania law professor in April, conservative advocacy groups had threatened to make a major issue of her interpretations of the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights statutes and her general views on the need to increase the political power of blacks and other minority groups. Nonetheless, the President said he had not read any of her controversial writings until this week and aides said he was not fully briefed on the potential controversy at the time the nomination was made.
“Had I read them before I nominated her, I would not have done so,” Clinton said of Guinier’s writings.
That statement stood in sharp contrast to two previous remarks Clinton had made about Guinier in recent weeks. On May 11, as the controversy around her began to mount, Clinton seemed to defend Guinier strongly in a speech to a dinner of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
“The Senate ought to be able to put up with a little controversy in the cause of civil rights and go on and confirm her so we can get about the business of America,” he said then.
At a more recent press conference, Clinton seemed to imply that Guinier’s writings did not really matter, saying that while he did not necessarily agree with everything she had written in the past, her job would be merely to enforce the law, not to set policy, which was his job and the attorney general’s.
On Thursday, Clinton did not explain the apparent shift in his views on the importance of Guinier’s writings. Nor did he provide many answers to questions about how such a situation could have occurred--how the White House staff, which did review Guinier’s writings before forwarding her name to the President, could have failed to alert him to the trouble ahead or how, if he was alerted, he failed to heed the warning.
Clinton’s only answer to those questions was that “the adequacy or inadequacy of the briefings I received about this issue” might have been influenced by “the assumption that I must have known everything she’d written about, since I knew her as a lawyer.”
But while the President seemed disinclined to discuss publicly the question of blame, others within the White House were less reticent. Such matters have been at the forefront of discussions in the increasingly glum Clinton White House, where the Guinier fiasco is seen as only the latest in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have sapped the President’s popularity and distracted his attention from the crucial battles over his economic and health care plans.
“It’s been a bad week. But we keep saying that week after week,” said one unhappy senior aide.
Within the Administration, much blame has been laid at the doorstep of White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum whose job it was to review Guinier’s file. “We seem to have an office here that has a problem with female nominees who have odd first names,” said one senior official, referring to the previous debacles over attorney general hopefuls Zoe Baird and Kimba M. Wood.
Clinton insisted that political calculations--his Administration’s desire to appear more centrist and his need to court Senate votes for his economic package--had not driven his decisions on Guinier. “It is not the fear of defeat that has prompted this decision. It is the certainty that the battle would be carried on a ground that I could not defend,” he said.
“I would gladly fight this nomination to the last moment if nobody wanted to vote for her--nobody--if it were on the grounds that I could defend,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with the political center. This has to do with my center,” he said.
Clinton also denied widespread rumors that his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was also a law school classmate of Guinier’s, had argued in favor of keeping the nominee. “Hillary played no role in this nomination or this decision,” he said.
Clinton’s action came after a day in which black lawmakers and civil rights leaders--angry, frustrated and threatening--bombarded a hunkered-down White House with calls to stand behind the nomination and not pull the plug on Guinier before she had had her day in court.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that the lack of White House support for Guinier after she became a target of conservatives’ attacks because of her views on black political power brought to mind the way Democrats failed to support Anita Faye Hill after the Oklahoma University law school professor leveled charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Once the nomination was withdrawn, however, black leaders did not conceal their rage.
Wade Henderson, director of the Washington bureau of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said that Guinier “becomes the first nominee to have been withdrawn by a President for reasons other than competence or character.” Calling her “a martyr to political expediency,” Henderson said that she “has been denied the right to a fair hearing . . . and the American people have been denied their right to hear directly from her.”
“Lani Guinier’s only fault was to trust her old friend, Bill Clinton,” said Roger Wilkins, a George Mason University history professor and close personal friend of the nominee.
Times staff writers Sam Fulwood III and Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.
Excerpts From Guinier’s Writings
EXCERPT NO. 1: Majority Rule “I would argue that majority rule is unfair in situations where the majority is racially prejudiced against the minority to such a degree that the majority consistently excludes the minority . . . . Proportionate interest representation attempts to move the process of governmental decision-making away from a majoritarian model toward one of proportional power.” A CRITICISM “Ms. Guinier would graft onto the existing system a complex racial spoils system that would further polarize an already divided nation.” --Former Reagan Administration attorney Clint Bolick IN DEFENSE “Such remedies . . . have been consistently supported by the Department of Justice in both Democratic and Republican administrations.” --NAACP Legal Defense Fund
EXCERPT NO. 2: Representation “Authentic black representation is the first important building block for black electoral theory . . . . Authentic leaders are those elected by black voters. (They) need not be black as long as the source of their authority, legitimacy and power base is the black community.” A CRITICISM “Thus, Guinier suggests a black elected official like Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder might not count as authentically black because he had to appeal to white voters. So much for the quaint notion that the civil rights movement has something to do with moving the country away from . . . racial stereotypes and polarization.” --Stuart Taylor Jr., columnist for Legal Times IN DEFENSE “The entire thrust of Guinier’s writing is to reject the theory of which the concept of an ‘authentic’ representative is a part. She believes that voters ought to elect candidates on the basis of ‘like minds, not like bodies.’ ” --Duke Law Prof. James E. Coleman Jr. writing a reply to Taylor
EXCERPT NO. 3: Diverse Appointments “The Senate Judiciary Committee should begin evaluating federal judicial nominations with reference to specific goals for increasing non-white nominees. (It should) consider the impact of these. . .nominations as a totality on the composition of the federal bench.” A CRITICISM Guinier is “Clinton’s quota queen. (She) calls for racial quotas in judicial appointments.” --Clint Bolick in the Wall Street Journal IN DEFENSE “I do not believe in quotas. I have advocated . . . exactly what President Clinton has talked about in terms of making his Cabinet look like America, and that is a more diverse federal bench.” --Guinier on ABC’s “Nightline”