The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Lani Guinier

April 19, 1950–January 7, 2022

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Lani Guinier until we are able to commission a full entry.

Lani Guinier.

Courtesy of Penn State University.

Born in 1950, Lani Guinier was the daughter of Ewart Guinier, the first chair of the Harvard Afro-American Studies department, and Eugenia Paprin Guinier, a Jewish American teacher and civil rights activist. Guinier earned her BA from Radcliffe College in 1971 and her JD from Yale Law School in 1974. After clerking for Judge Damon Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, she worked under Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration. In 1981, she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) as an assistant counsel, later leading its voting rights project. She was a highly successful litigator for LDF, winning 31 of the 32 cases she argued. She also worked on the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982. In 1989, Guinier began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 1998, she joined the faculty of Harvard Law School, where she was the first woman of color to be granted tenure. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Guinier to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Conservatives blocked her appointment by misrepresenting her views and claiming she was in favor of racial quotas, giving her the nickname “quota queen.” Guinier in fact opposed racial quotas, but she argued that the principle of “one person, one vote” was insufficient in a system where the interests of minorities were inevitably trampled by those of the majority, and that alternatives needed to be considered to give more weight to minority interests. Clinton withdrew his nomination, stating that Guinier’s writing “clearly lend themselves to interpretations that do not represent the views I expressed on civil rights during the [presidential] campaign.” Guinier authored over two dozen law reviews and five books, all of which discuss civils rights and social reform in some capacity. She died on January 7, 2022, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.  

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Lani Guinier." (Viewed on October 2, 2023) <>.


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