WASHINGTON -- Senior White House officials and Democratic senators said yesterday that President Clinton's nomination of Lani Guinier to be the Justice Department's civil rights chief would have to be withdrawn because of mounting opposition in the Senate and the administration's attempt to sprint to the political center.
Her nomination has attracted intense criticism for articles on the Voting Rights Act, which her critics say make her a proponent of extreme race-based proposals.
A senior Democratic senator said last night that about two dozen Senate Democrats have told the White House that it must withdraw the Guinier nomination, noting that she is likely to win approval from only a small minority of the 18 members of the Judiciary Committee.
"I don't see how she can survive," a senior White House official said after Mr. Clinton named David R. Gergen as counselor to the president last weekend as part of an effort to signal that the White House was firmly fixed in the political mainstream.
Ms. Guinier, 43, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was nominated by Mr. Clinton on April 29 to be assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden, the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, gave only the barest suggestion that Ms. Guinier could be confirmed.
"If she can come up here and explain herself, convince people that what she wrote was just a lot of academic musing, who knows?" Mr. Biden said in a telephone interview from Delaware. "I suppose it's conceivable that she could be confirmed. If she comes up here and says she believes in the theories that she sets out in her articles and is going to pursue them, not a shot."
At the White House, an official said that there was a sharp division of opinion within the administration about whether Ms. Guinier could still win confirmation.
In law review articles and elsewhere, Ms. Guinier has said that although the Voting Rights Act had given blacks a chance to elect blacks at all levels of government, that had often proved insufficient.
Even if blacks elect blacks, Ms. Guinier has argued, they will remain in the minority and may be consistently outvoted and ignored by the white majority. For such cases, she has proposed a variety of voting schemes to give minorities a greater influence over legislative outcomes.