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Revisiting Dr. Anita Hill versus Justice Clarence Thomas

By Curt Anderson
May 21, 2020 5:17 pm
Category: Law

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Dr. Anita Hill's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Clarence Thomas is being revisited, now, almost 30 years later in part because of Joe Biden chaired that committee. Biden has been criticized for his handling of the hearings.

According to Wikipedia and linked reference pages, Dr. Anita Hill became a national figure in 1991 when she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her supervisor at the United States Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of sexual harassment.

There had been little organized opposition to Thomas' nomination, and his confirmation seemed assured until a report of a private interview of Dr. Hill by the FBI was leaked to the press. The hearings were then reopened, and Dr. Hill was called to publicly testify. Dr. Hill said on 11 October 1991 in televised hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC. When questioned on why she followed Thomas to the second job after he had already allegedly harassed her, she said working in a reputable position within the civil rights field had been her ambition. The position was appealing enough to inhibit her from going back into private practice with her previous firm. She said that she only realized later in her life that the choice had represented poor judgment on her part, but that "at that time, it appeared that the sexual overtures ... had ended."

According to Dr. Hill, Thomas asked her out socially many times during her two years of employment as his assistant, and, after she declined his requests, he used work situations to discuss sexual subjects."He spoke about ... such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes," she said, adding that on several occasions Thomas graphically described "his own sexual prowess" and the details of his anatomy. Dr. Hill also recounted an instance in which Thomas examined a can of Coke on his desk and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?" During the hearing, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch implied that "Hill was working in tandem with 'slick lawyers' and interest groups bent on destroying Thomas' chances to join the court." Thomas said he had considered Dr. Hill a friend whom he had helped at every turn, so when accusations of harassment came from her they were particularly hurtful and he said, "I lost the belief that if I did my best, all would work out."

Dr. Hill agreed to take a polygraph test. While senators and other authorities noted that polygraph results cannot be relied upon and are inadmissible in courts, Dr. Hill's results did support her statements. Thomas did not take a polygraph test. He made a vehement and complete denial, saying that he was being subjected to a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks" by white liberals who were seeking to block a black conservative from taking a seat on the Supreme Court.

Thomas' supporters questioned Dr. Hill's credibility, claiming she was delusional or had been spurned, leading her to seek revenge. They cited the time delay of ten years between the alleged behavior by Thomas and Dr. Hill's accusations, and noted that Dr. Hill had followed Thomas to a second job and later had personal contacts with Thomas, including giving him a ride to an airport—behavior which they said would be inexplicable if Dr. Hill's allegations were true.

On 25 April 2019, the 2020 US presidential campaign team for Joe Biden disclosed that he had called Ms. Hill to express "his regret for what she endured" 28 years ago, when, as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he presided over the confirmation hearings in which she accused Clarence Thomas, President George Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment. Ms. Hill said the call from Mr. Biden left her feeling deeply unsatisfied. On June 13 2019, Ms. Hill clarified that she did not consider Mr. Biden's actions disqualifying, and would be open to voting for him.

In May 2020, Dr. Hill argued that sexual misconduct allegations made against Donald Trump as well as the sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden should be investigated and their results "made available to the public."



Dr. Hill's belief that allegations against Trump and Biden (and presumably other candidates and maybe all men generally) should be investigated and made public is McCarthyesque, runs counter to our American justice system, not to mention it being a fair election process killer. Outside of the old Jim Crow south and countries governed by Sharia law, it's hard to imagine a system where merely an accusation of sexual impropriety triggers an investigation and public airing of the results.

Of course, in cases in which the police and court system deems them credible enough to bring charges, as in the cases of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, then the investigation and the trial testimony and evidence are appropriately made public.

As for the harassment charges (repeatedly asking her out, off-color remarks) that Dr. Hill leveled at Thomas, even with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, it boiled down to he said/she said scenario. Certainly liberals and conservatives had their respective biases. Some wondered if it was case of a woman being treated unfairly. Or was it case of a black man being treated unfairly? Assuming all of Dr. Hill's accusations were true, were they disqualifying to be on the Supreme Court?

As for how the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were conducted, other than her own testimony, Dr. Hill didn't provide any evidence, not there usually is evidence in these cases. Given the lack of evidence, it was inevitable that Dr. Hill's veracity would be tested. In similar fashions, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Tara Reade's credibility have been questioned recently.


Cited and related links:

  1. en.wikipedia.org

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