INDIANAPOLIS -- An embittered Lani Guinier said yesterday that she had "lost respect for the political process" and that she had been "vilified as a mad woman with strange hair . . . a strange name and strange ideas."
The black University of Pennsylvania law professor, who was dumped last month by President Clinton as his nominee to be the government's top civil rights official, received a heroine's welcome from the NAACP's 84th annual convention.
Ms. Guinier attacked the Supreme Court's recent decision on congressional redistricting in North Carolina and said she was "alarmed" by Justice Clarence Thomas' vote with the 5-4 majority. She and the court's only black justice were classmates at Yale Law School.
The voting-rights expert told reporters that Justice Thomas' decision "reflects real ignorance about the reality of politics in North Carolina." She said she was "alarmed by what this may mean for his thinking in the future."
In the North Carolina case, the court ruled in the 5-4 vote that a new district in which a black congressman was elected might be invalid because it was too oddly shaped.
"It means that the district looked funny," Ms. Guinier said in her speech, "and what does that mean? It means the district looked black."
"This district may look funny, but the way black people are segregated and discriminated against in this society looks funny, too," she said.
Ironically, Ms. Guinier argued, the idea for which she was criticized -- cumulative voting, in which voters may cast multiple ballots for one candidate or spread them out among many -- might have been a remedy in the North Carolina case.
She charged that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to deal openly with the issue of race.
"Unless we want to be known as race-obsessed radicals, we are no longer permitted to discuss race in polite conversation or law review articles," she said, alluding to her publications that President Clinton cited in jettisoning her nomination.
Ms. Guinier said the remark about her "strange hair" was originally made by an anonymous Democratic staffer quoted in a news magazine. She interpreted it as a racist comment.
"In my case, strange hair means I have African-American hair and, as black people, to some white folks we look funny," she said.
Ms. Guinier held out hope that President Clinton's administration could succeed and promote racial healing.
Asked if he she had lost respect for President Clinton, Ms. Guinier said: "I've lost respect for the political process, and I hope he can change the political process so that it can treat not just people like me, but all people, fairly."