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The Lani Guinier Case

In response to:

The Case of Lani Guinier from the August 13, 1998 issue

To the Editors:

Anthony Lewis has accused me of believing that “America’s race problem has been substantially solved” [“The Case of Lani Guinier,” NYR, August 13].

That is not remotely what I believe. America is a very color-conscious society, and true racial equality remains a dream. There has been much progress, and there is still much to do. That is the central point of America in Black and White, the book that I co-authored with my husband.

Perhaps Lewis thinks he can intuit what I believe without bothering to read my work. He certainly seems convinced that he can read my mind. In suggesting to Clint Bolick that Lani Guinier would not be his pick for the nation’s top civil rights job, I was stating the obvious. I was not organizing a campaign. But what was wrong with Bolick’s effort to defeat the nomination? Did Lewis think it improper when civil rights groups worked hard to stop Judge Clarence Thomas from becoming a Supreme Court Justice?

As for my view of Professor Guinier, Lewis has that wrong too. As I have stated in print, she has a taste for intellectual adventure that is not so common in the academy, and the courage of her convictions. She has interesting, out-of-the-mainstream ideas, and she says what she thinks. I agree with her on some matters; not on others.

For instance, while she and I differ on the virtues of cumulative voting, we agree that racially gerrymandered legislative districts are a bad idea. But I arrived at that viewpoint many years before she did; indeed, for a long time she quite relentlessly attacked me for saying precisely what she later came to believe. When she changed her mind, a crumb of appreciation for my earlier work might have been nice, but I was—and remain—glad to have her on board.

Abigail Thernstrom
Lexington, MA

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