Lani Guinier--"quota queen" or just misquoted

Clinton’s appointee for some “civil rights” post came under a lot of fire and was called a “quota queen.”

I’ve been able to find little that she has actually said or written–only what others say she has said or written.

What I have seen from her own lips is that she is most definitely against “quotas.”

Her allies agree–her opponents disagree.

She is however (from her own lips) in favor of “supermajorities” and “proportional representation,” which, if I’ve been able to decipher them correctly (and there’s no guarantee of that), they amount to, well, quotas.

Educate me on this.

You should probably spend the time to really dig through the web or your local library to find out all the complex stuff she favored. She was(is) a very bright lady with some interesting ideas.

The “proportional representation” issue was not, however, about quotas. (Some of her other ideas arguably were–or were not.)

Under out current form of republicanism, we generally follow a “winner takes all” method of election. The candidate with the largest number of votes, even if by a slim plurality, is the simple winner. (There are cities who have other rules, but I am not aware of any other rules at the national level.)

When choosing representatives to Congress or to state legislatures, this provides a lot of opportunities for state legislatures to stack the decks so that the party in power remains in power. Looking at any state, you can find geographic regions where either cultural or ethnic groups, who could reasonably expect to think similarly on certain issues, can have their voting power reduced by gerrymandering. This can happen in two ways: dilution or overconcentration.

In dilution, we set the voting boundaries so that the recognizable group is split up so that it will never have a large enough block of voters to get one of their own elected. (E.g., set the boundaries of each district near a city to divide the city into parcels, linking each inner city parcel to a much larger group of suburban voters who could be expected to vote differently so that each city is never able to put forth a winning candidate.)

In overconcentration, we recognize that there are so many people of one specific class that we cannot possibly divide the districts so that they never have a majority. What do we do? Map the districts so that all of those people are contained in a single district so that they can only have one possible vote in Congress or the legislature.

In the last census, there were two attempts to address this issue by creating really distorted districts that would guarantee that, at least, some representatives would be elected by black voters in one of the Carolinas and another state. Despite the good apparent intentions, the districts were so clearly gerrymandered that the Supreme Court threw both of them out.

Proportional representation attempts to do away with those issues by, first, eliminating the district boundaries. All of the representatives are selected “at large.”

Now, the “at large” election has its own problems. A number of cities went to an “at large” system in the 1950s and 1960s as a form of dilution. 15 candidates run for 10 offices with no candidate representing any specific district. However, when the votes are counted, using winner-take-all and plurality logic, the eight candidates who culturally represent the majority (even though we are all playing by the fiction that all candidates represent all voters) have totally overwhelmed the seven candidates who culturally represent the minority and the city council simply runs as an 8 - 2 rubber stamp for the majority–even if the population is divided 55 - 45.

So the next step in “proportional representation” is to establish different methods of actually tallying the votes. I don’t remember all the rules that were suggested. One that I vaguely remember was that each voter was given a ballot with a certain number of “points.” They could divide their points up among the various candidates, or they could throw all their points to a specific candidate that they chose. The idea was that they traded off their voting powers of breadth vs depth.

I have not been convinced of the benefits of this system (although it has worked in some smaller settings), but it would clearly require a Constitutional Amendment to be enacted at the national level.

It is also not simply a Lani Guanier/kook idea, having support from a number of political science theorists.


That’s Lani’s proposal in a nutshell. The idea is that it makes everybody’s vote(s) more important. If you actually read her writings - and they’re not that hard to find - she makes a very big deal out of this system being “race-neutral” and beneficial to any group that could legitimately be called “minority” - including, for example, Republicans in San Francisco.

Like tomndebb I’m not entirely sure I agree with her, but to call her a “quota queen” is just ridiculous, to say nothing of its obvious racist connotations. I doubt anyone who called her that ever read a thing she wrote.

K.C. Cole discusses the reaction to Guinier’s ideas in her book The Universe and The Teacup. She says that Guinier ruffled a good number of feathers by suggesting that we could do better than a simple “winner take all” system of voting. Mathematicans do not agree on the best voting system, but they do agree with Guinier that simple plurality wins is the worst. Many people confuse acceptance of this mathematical truth with a condemnation of democracy.

One proposed voting system–the one being used by the Reform Party to elect its candidate–involves ranking the candidates. (For instance: Beatty #1, Trump #2, Buchanan #3). First-place votes are counted, and if one candidate has a majority, he wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest #1 votes is eliminated, and those who voted for him have their #2 picks moved up to #1. This process is repeated until one candidate has the majority of #1 votes.

More complicated, but still not that complicated. I think people could catch on.

Dr. J

I’m interested in a lot of proportional representation ideas. The ones actually in practice in some country or other tend to be pretty sensible.

One that is not very sensible was attibuted (possibly falsely) to Jesse Jackson. This system was not supposed to be race-neutral, rather, you figured out how many people were of various demographic groups and made sure (don’t know how exactly) that exactly the proportionally-correct number of people of each group ended up elected.

I’ve never heard of any country using this idea, and I don’t believe Jackson support any such thing. Rather, I suspect someone heard what Jackson (and Guinier) supported as a way of increasing representation of any minority, so long as it had been previously underrepresented, whether or not it’s a racial group. Republicans in San Francisco are an excellent example.

I haven’t met a system of PR that meets every possible criticism, but I have seen plenty that meet simplistic critiques as below.

  1. Proportional representation leads to an uncontrollable proliferation of parties. No. India uses strict first-past-the-post single-member districts, and has over a dozen parties in the Parliament (there are something like 40 registered nationally). PR can be combined with thresholds of representation, e.g. no party can be seated with less than 5% of the vote. This creates a theoretical maximum of 20 parties, and a practical maximum of four or five.

  2. Proportional representation makes it impossible for voters to select individual candidates. The only country I have met where this is true is Israel. It is simple to incorporate votes for individuals, even into list voting systems.

  3. Proportional representation is only possible in parliamentary systems. Yeah, and there are no apples in Orange County. PR has nothing to do with the relationship of the executive to the legislature. Brazil uses PR to elect its House of Representatives and has an executive President.

  4. It’s good to crush minorities since they are insane/extremists/not serious about governing. Shut up whitey. Or should I say, shut up Republicrat. Shut up, macho man? All we are is a bunch of minorities. Trouble is, those minorities who like the two main parties, follow a career path from lawyer to state house to Congress, and think it’s fun to raise funds are overrepresented.

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

I agree that our voting system(s) are not ideal, and I agree that politicians’ gerrymandering stinks. I greatly disagree with the clear suggestion that individuals should vote according to their ethnic or cultural background however. That’s a disgusting (though common) perversion of the idea of representation.

I don’t give a rat’s arse where some politician’s ancestors came from. What I do care about is his [which of course means his or her] political philosophy. We’re never gonna have anything approaching decent government as long as the great unwashed are directed to vote according to their cultural groupings.

On the other hand, groups of people who live in similar surroundings tend to have very similar issues regarding the government (not only when seeking assistance, but when seeking relief from interference) and tend to develop “cultures.” This does not specifically mean ethnic cultures–although this society’s tradition of excluding people or imposing burdens on people based on their ethnic background has certainly shaped many ethnic cultures.

Do you think that there are no “cultural” aspects to industrial areas and farming areas, wealthy enclaves vs poor neighborhoods?

I do not think that we should “encourage” all the blacks, Poles, English, or Finns to vote in blocs. The issue is that when politicians recognize that a group already tends to vote in a bloc, those politicians will work to reduce or increase the value of those votes depending on how the votes will affect those politicians’ careers.

This is one of the problems that Ms. Guinier’s proposals attempted to rectify. It does provide each group (even straight, white, Republicans in San Francisco) “proportional” representation, rather than eliminating or marginalizing their voices.


I realize that neither my last post or this one is directly relevant to the OP.
I disagree that the issue is not the encouragement of bloc-voting. I believe that is exactly the issue. I’ll even broaden this farther and add that I decry the whole idea of self-interest voting (realizing that of course all voting is in one’s self interest and I’m using a confusing way of referring to this) rather than philosophical voting.

Encouraging voters to try to wrest specific accommodations out of their representatives is a tactic doomed to fail for “poor neighborhoods” (for example.) The rich will always win. This is a scam to concentrate yet more power into the hands of politicians, when they are the ones causing the problems in the first place.

Should a neighborhood (rather than an ethnic group) band together politically when they are being ignored entirely in favor of other areas? Sure. But I see that as only a tiny bit of this matter.

I don’t see the solution to the problem of politicians ignoring segments of the population to be trying to legislate some cockamamie scheme to force them to represent each cultural grouping equally. I see the only practical solution as being for us to insist on politicians who act on principal rather than on hopes to appeal to voters.

Right, then. the ideal government is clearly rule by Philosopher Kings :).

Sorry, but in a representative democracy, politicians (not a dirty word) attempt to represent the interests of their constituency. And the constituents in turn give up the power of direct law making to their representatives. It’s a contract, and a sensible one, I think.

Proportional representation would go some way to making the contract a bit fairer. Maybe that would lead to better, more neutral, law making in the long run.


ruadh wrote:

As one who lives near San Francisco (close enough that everybody here simply calls it “The City”), let me say that this is not accurate. There are quite a large number of Repubs in San Francisco. Maybe not a majority, but they’re not exactly rare.

A better example of a minority would be Republicans in Berkeley. They’re still rooting for North Vietnam over there.

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

How many Republicans are there on the San Franciso city council? Or is it a nonpartisan thing like the Nebraska legislature?

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

DoctorJ, the shifting ballot idea (I don’t know its popular name) is what is used to chose the Hugo Awards/Nominations and many of the floating SF con locations. It has worked rather well so far as I can tell.

>>Being Chaotic Evil means never having to say your sorry…unless the other guy is bigger than you.<<

—The dragon observes

I think the system DoctorJ has mentioned is usually called single transferable vote. That is what they call it in Ireland, where they use it to select candidates for multi-member constituencies. That gets pretty complicated.

The Australians use it in single-member constituences to elect their House of Representatives, allowing a majoritarian system with a single ballot. They call it the alternative vote if I remember correctly. That’s a pretty simple system since all you have to do is transfer votes originally cast for candidates after the weakest candidates are excluded.

The Australian model doesn’t approach proportional representation, but at least it allows people to vote for their first choice without fearing that their last choice will be elected with a sub-majority.

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

tracer, I live in San Francisco. Don’t try to tell me Republicans aren’t a minority here. In fact I just looked it up on the SF Election FAQ and current Republican registration is 15%. So there :slight_smile:

Boris - the Board of Supervisors is nonpartisan, but I’m hard pressed to think of any of them that would have run as Republicans. Maybe one or two (Newsom and Kaufman come to mind), but they’d be considered extremely liberal Republicans anywhere else in the country. Except Berkeley of course.