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Jewish Groups Mainly Relieved at Retreat on Guinier Nomination

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Jewish groups have responded with mixed emotions to President Clinton’s decision to withdraw his controversial nomination of Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Concerned about Guinier’s published views on such topics as the Voting Rights Act, a number of Jewish groups had sought for weeks to meet with Guinier and ascertain if she intended to implement her ideas at the Justice Department.

After weeks of attempting to define its position on the tricky issue of the nomination, much of the Jewish community seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief once Clinton abandoned his nominee.

In his June 3 announcement withdrawing the nomination, Clinton said he had not read Guinier’s controversial academic articles about voting rights. Had he done so, the president said, he would not have nominated Guinier, an old friend from their days as Yale Law School students.

Guinier, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been involved in voting rights issues for much of her career, defended her writings at a news conference Friday.

Some Jewish groups had refrained from joining a recent statement by the Leadership Council on Civil Rights supporting the nomination, and this split in the black-Jewish alliance concerned some in the Jewish community.

After Clinton’s announcement, not everyone in the Jewish community was eager to comment on the failed nomination, and those who did were looking to the future.

“This was a difficult and troubling nomination, and now that it is behind us, we look forward to a new nominee,” said Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress.

“We welcome President Clinton’s dedication, reiterated again last night, to effect much-needed racial healing in our nation,” Pelavin said Friday.

NEED SOMEONE NATION ‘CAN RALLY AROUND’

Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League, took a similar view.

“We respect the president’s decision,” Hordes said. “We had been looking forward to the opportunity to meet with her and discuss our serious concerns” about the positions she had taken in her writings.

“We hope the president will nominate some-one the country can rally around,” he added.

While not taking a firm position, both the ADL and AJCongress had issued written statements expressing concerns about the nomination. The two groups had sought to meet with Guinier before taking a final stand one way or the other.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, a group promoting grass-roots Democratic political activity, had not taken a position on Guinier’s nomination, but spokesman Lewis Roth said the group “could understand why” the president was concerned about some of Guinier’s writings.

Even before the nomination was withdrawn, two Jewish groups, the National Jewish Coalition, a group promoting ties between the Republican Party and the Jewish community, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, declared their opposition to Guinier’s nomination.

On Friday, Matt Brooks, executive director of the NJC, expressed gratification that Clinton had withdrawn the nomination.

Brooks said the NJC hopes the next nominee for the civil rights post “is more reflective of the mainstream American view” on voting rights issues.

In Chicago, however, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, an organization dedicated to issues of social and economic justice, issued a statement calling the withdrawal of the nomination a “grave mistake.”

Calling Guinier “probably the most qualified person ever nominated to this position,” the group said the “recent comments about her work are a gross distortion” of what she believes and represents.

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