How a Celebrated Legal Scholar Got Swept Up in the Political Spin Machine

Approaching 10 p.m., with lower than two hours to air, what had been an on-again, off-again interview that night was on once more. However as Guinier arrived for the broadcast, we had simply learn the Washington Publish headline and have been surprised: “GUINIER NOMINATION NEAR WITHDRAWAL.” The New York Instances headline additionally didn’t mince phrases: “AIDES SAY CLINTON WILL DROP NOMINEE FOR POST ON RIGHTS.” The timing was jolting. The story was altering simply as the lady at the heart of it appeared in the inexperienced room.

Koppel could possibly be a robust interviewer and a demanding boss but in addition humorous and personable, particularly when greeting a visitor earlier than the broadcast. It was normal apply for him to not talk about the upcoming interview, however on this evening, when he noticed Guinier in the inexperienced room, he informed her, “I don’t wish to sandbag you on the air.” He not solely confirmed her what had simply been revealed in the papers but in addition gave her the probability to bow out of the broadcast. A beautiful gesture, however, with lower than half an hour till air, it left the few members of the producing employees readily available, together with me, to marvel what the heck we might placed on the present if Guinier took Koppel up on his provide.

Accompanied by two Justice Division officers, Guinier requested for a few moments to assessment the tales and to speak with the Clinton administration aides. As former producer Kyle Gibson wrote in Nightline, the guide she co-authored with Koppel, “till now Guinier had not made one public assertion in protection of her authorized writings, regardless that criticism had mounted for weeks.” The Clinton administration had instructed the nominee to remain silent till lastly giving her permission to seem on our present, regardless that the president was reportedly making ready to drag the nomination.


With time seemingly operating out, Guinier apparently realized this is likely to be the final probability to defend herself, clear up the confusion over the quota debate and, simply probably, save her nomination. She informed Koppel she needed to go ahead with the broadcast, what could be her first-ever interview on nationwide tv.

With a lot using on this interview, you’d have thought Guinier could be a bundle of nerves. However when she sat throughout from Koppel, a calm appeared to return over her. Given the Publish and Instances experiences, Koppel started by asking Guinier if the White Home “a minimum of had the courtesy to let you know that, so far as they’re involved, issues are quickly coming to a shut right here.”

“The nomination has confirmed a lot extra difficult than was anticipated,” she responded, including, “If given a possibility to testify earlier than the Senate, I imagine the Senate will vote to substantiate me.”

Koppel expressed sympathy about “the circumstances beneath which you might have come right here tonight.” However he informed Guinier she hadn’t answered his query about whether or not she obtained any advance warning from the White Home.


“I actually can’t let you know what’s going to occur. I’m the nominee,” she replied.

Koppel then requested her about the Q-word that had so dominated the controversy round her nomination: “You probably did certainly name for the Senate Judiciary Committee to make use of its energy of recommendation and consent — I feel the manner you place it — to make sure that extra individuals from minorities get judicial appointments. Now doesn’t that quantity to a quota?”

“I don’t imagine in quotas,” Guinier replied. “I’ve by no means advocated quotas, and the one sentence in that one article was a reference to precisely what President Clinton has talked about in phrases of constructing his Cupboard appear to be America, and that’s a extra numerous federal bench.”

Though Guinier supported different voting techniques such as cumulative voting and supermajorities in legislative bodies, she made clear to Koppel she didn’t assist weighted votes for minority politicians.


As the interview concluded, Koppel requested, “You continue to assume you might have a probability?”

Guinier expressed confidence: “I’ve each expectation that, if given a probability, I’ll succeed.”

That probability she sought earlier than the Senate Judiciary Committee by no means got here. In keeping with Guinier’s account in Gibson’s guide, White Home and DOJ aides informed her the subsequent morning that her “Nightline” look had generated a flood of calls that have been “eight-to-one, 12-to-one in my favor.” However she additionally obtained calls from high White Home officers she described as “very indignant as a result of I advised that I ought to have a Senate listening to.”

On the night of June 4, Guinier was summoned to the Oval Workplace to face Clinton, her buddy from their Yale Legislation Faculty days. A witness to the almost hourlong assembly informed me that Clinton knowledgeable Guinier what he would quickly announce in the White Home briefing room — that he was withdrawing her nomination. Her writings, he would inform reporters, “clearly lend themselves to interpretations that don’t signify the views I expressed on civil rights throughout the [presidential] marketing campaign.”

The choice drew robust rebukes in sure quarters. William Coleman, a Republican Transportation secretary beneath President Gerald Ford and the first African American to function a Supreme Court docket legislation clerk, called Clinton’s decision “political cowardice.”New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote, “Professor Guinier was the goal of the simplest smear marketing campaign seen in Washington since Joe McCarthy’s day.”

Since the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court docket, Washington has seen its share of ugly partisan affirmation battles. However Guinier by no means reached the sizzling seat in hers. She suffered from one thing totally different: benign neglect from the White Home that nominated her. The Clinton administration didn’t anticipate that her enemies would outline her so successfully from the get-go and by no means launched a full-on counteroffensive to neutralize that narrative. Maybe her educational writings have been forward of their time. Or maybe she was merely a sufferer of a new administration not but schooled in the artwork of whack-a-mole or understanding the way to tamp down a number of crises as every pops up.

That Guinier stood agency beneath withering assault is only one of her many legacies, alongside along with her celebrated work on voting rights and affirmative motion. We’ll by no means know if she would have been confirmed had she been given the alternative to make her case earlier than the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a substitute, she needed to accept an Eleventh-hour tv interview — and solely after her critics had free rein for greater than a month to take their finest shot at her.

“It was as if, till that point, I had been a defendant in a legal trial in which neither I nor my legal professional had been allowed to talk, whereas the prosecution accused me of all types of issues,” Guinier would later inform Gibson. “So lastly, I used to be about to talk for myself.”

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