In 1998, Lani Guinier became the first African American woman to be appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, she was a tenured professor for ten years at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. During the 1980s, she was head of the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and served in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter administration as special assistant to then-Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days. Guinier came to public attention when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, only to have her name withdrawn without a confirmation hearing. Guinier turned that incident into a powerful personal and political memoir, Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice. Dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman calls Lift Every Voice a “moving personal testimony, a story of dignity and principle and hope, from which every reader can take heart.”
While a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier investigated the experience of women in law school, leading to the publication of a book, Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School and Institutional Change. She and her co-authors found that women were not graduating with top honors, although women and men came to the school with virtually identical credentials. The author of many articles and op-ed pieces on democratic theory, political representation, educational equity, and issues of race and gender, Guinier has written The Tyranny of the Majority (Free Press, 1994) about issues of political representation; Who’s Qualified? (Beacon Press, 2001) written with Susan Sturm about moving beyond affirmative action to reconsider the ways in which colleges admit all students; and The Miner’s Canary (Harvard Press, 2002), written with Gerald Torres about the experience of people of color as a warning or “canary” signaling larger institutional inequities.
A graduate of Radcliffe College of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Guinier has received numerous awards, including the 1995 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession; the Champion of Democracy Award from the National Women's Political Caucus; the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association for Affirmative Action; the Harvey Levin Teaching Award, given to her by the 1994 graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania; and the 2002 Sacks-Freund Teaching Award from Harvard Law School. She is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees from schools which include Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College, and the University of the District of Columbia.
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