Thursday, January 16, 2003

Let's remember the last time the Right disingenuously trotted out the Quota word. Race-baiting assholes.

In the media smear campaign against Lani Guinier, Clinton's nominee as assistant attorney general for civil rights, her views were not only distorted, but in many cases presented as the exact opposite of her actual beliefs.

One of the most prominent themes of the attack on Guinier was her supposed support for electoral districts shaped to ensure a black majority -- a process known as "race-conscious districting." An entire op-ed in the New York Times -- which appeared on the day her nomination was withdrawn (6/3/93) -- was based on the premise that Guinier was in favor of "segregating black voters in black-majority districts."

In reality, Guinier is the most prominent voice in the civil rights community challenging such districting. In sharp contrast to her media caricature as a racial isolationist, she has criticized race-conscious districting (Boston Review, 9-10/92) because it "isolates blacks from potential white allies" and "suppresses the potential development of issue-based campaigning and cross-racial coalitions."

Another media tactic against Guinier was to dub her a "quota queen," a phrase first used in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (4/30/93) by Clint Bolick, a Reagan-era Justice Department official. The racially loaded term combines the "welfare queen" stereotype with the dreaded "quota," a buzzword that almost killed the 1991 Civil Rights Act.

The problem is that Guinier is an opponent of quotas to ensure representation of minorities. In an article in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (Spring/89), she stated that "the enforcement of this representational right does not require legislative set-asides, color-coded ballots, electoral quotas or 'one black, two votes' remedies."

But once the stereotype was affixed to her, there was seemingly no way she could dispel it: "Unbelievably, the woman known as the 'quota queen' claimed she did not believe in quotas," columnist Ray Kerrison wrote in the New York Post (6/4/93).

And Guinier herself says:

No one who had done their homework seriously questioned the fundamentally democratic nature of "my ideas." Indeed, two conservative columnists, George Will and Lally Weymouth, both wrote separate columns on the same day in the Washington Post (7/15/93), praising ideas remarkably similar to mine.

Lally Weymouth wrote: "There can't be democracy in South Africa without a measure of formal protection for minorities." George Will wrote: "The Framers also understood that stable, tyrannical majorities can best be prevented by the multiplication of minority interests, so the majority at any moment will be just a transitory coalition of minorities." In my law review articles I had expressed exactly the same reservations about unfettered majority rule, about the need sometimes to disaggregate the majority to ensure fair and effective representation for minority interests.

The difference is that the minority that I used to illustrate my academic point was not, as it was for Lally Weymouth, the white minority in South Africa. Nor did I write, as George Will did, about the minority of wealthy landlords in New York City. I wrote instead about the political exclusion of the black minority in local, county and municipal governing bodies in America.

Yet these same two journalists (Washington Post, 5/25/93; Newsweek, 6/14/93) and many others condemned me as anti-democratic. Apparently, some of us feel comfortable providing special protections for wealthy landlords or white South Africans, but we brand as "divisive" and "radical" the idea of providing similar remedies to include black Americans, who after centuries of racial oppression are still excluded.