In this December 4, 1993, file photo, Lani Guinier accepts the ACLU of Southern California Bill of Rights Award at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.
CNN  — 

Lani Guinier, a legal scholar and champion for voting rights who was once nominated to be assistant attorney general by then-President Bill Clinton, died on Friday, her cousin, Sherrie Russell-Brown, confirmed to CNN. She was 71.

Russell-Brown told CNN that Guinier had passed away peacefully, “surrounded by family and friends.”

Guinier was widely known for her 1993 nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which was met with a swift rebuke from the Republican Party due to her support for affirmative action and consequently failed.

Guinier had worked in the department’s Civil Rights Division before leading the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s, according to her Harvard Law School biography.

Guinier described her voting rights efforts as her “intellectual, professional, and spiritual cause,” according to a statement Friday on Yale Law School’s website. She received her J.D. degree from Yale Law School in 1974, following Clinton, who graduated in ’73.

At the time of her death, Guinier was a tenured professor at Harvard Law School, where she was the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Emerita. She was the first woman of color to be appointed a tenured professor at the law school.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, responded to Guinier’s passing in a tweet, writing, “A loss that means more to me than words can say. Civil rights atty, professor, my mentor, member of our @NAACP_LDF family. A mother of the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. A scholar of uncompromising brilliance. Rest In Peace and Power, dear Lani.”

Guinier is survived by her husband, son, daughter-in-law, stepdaughter, grandchild, sisters and nephews, according to the Yale Law School statement.

CNN’s Adrienne Winston contributed to this report.