In this the final part of the three part series, I will look at the stormy conclusion to the confirmation hearings. The Senate judiciary Committee, unable to reach a decision, passed the issue to the Senate for a vote. Unknown to most of the members, a storm was brewing and it would prove to be a public relations nightmare for the Bush Administration.
Allegations and Revelations
It was at this point- when the Senate took up the task of voting on the confirmation- that the process took an unexpected and ugly turn. A leaked Judiciary Committee/FBI report revealed that a colleague of Thomas, an Anita Hill, University of Oklahoma law school professor, had alleged that Thomas had made inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature while working together at the EEOC and the Department of Education.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Danforth, as Thomas’ protector pulled out all stops in order to force a vote before the Senate was able to hear Professor Hill’s testimony.
Additionally the Senator threatened to refuse to support a civil rights bill presently under discussion if moderate Democrats opposed Thomas. According to sourcewatch
In his book, Danforth would later admitted displaying very un-diplomatic behavior when Thomas’ nomination was challenged: “I completely lost my temper in a table-pounding, shouting, red-in-the-face profane rage.” Danforth wrote that he saw his role defending Thomas as “a warrior doing battle for the Lord.”
The entire question of Thomas’ qualifications suddenly took a back seat to the more sensational allegations of sexual misconduct in the office. The White House had worked hard to build up the image of Clarence Thomas as a man who had risen from abject poverty to an esteemed position of trust. It was a focus away from qualifications and competence to character and judgement. And suddenly, with the testimony of Anita Hill, they watched as all their hard work slip away as the young black woman began her testimony..
My name is Anita F. Hill, and I am a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma. I was born on a farm in Okmulgee County, OK, in 1956. I am the youngest of 13 children. I had my early education in Okmulgee County. My father, Albert Hill, is a farmer in that area. My mother’s name is Erma Hill. She is also a farmer and a housewife. My childhood was one of a lot of hard work and not much money, but it was one of solid family affection as represented by my parents. I was reared in a religious atmosphere in the Baptist faith, and I have been a member of the Antioch Baptist Church, in Tulsa, OK, since 1983. It is a very warm part of my life at the present time.
She then describe the duties and responsibilities while she worked with Thomas. It was, however, the troubling allegations about his behavior that caused a stir.
After approximately 3 months of working there, he asked me to go out socially with him. What happened next and telling the world about it are the two most difficult things, experiences of my life. It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration and a number of sleepless nights that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my close friends.
Her allegations were specific and detailed. From a television producer’s point of view, exactly the kind of sensationalism that could turn a rather dry debate about judicial matters into a television news event.
I declined the invitation to go out socially with him, and explained to him that I thought it would jeopardize what at the time I considered to be a very good working relationship. I had a normal social life with other men outside of the office. I believed then, as now, that having a social relationship with a person who was supervising my work would be ill advised. I was very uncomfortable with the idea and told him so. I thought that by saying “no” and explaining my reasons, my employer would abandon his social suggestions. However, to my regret, in the following few weeks he continued to ask me out on several occasions. He pressed me to justify my reasons for saying “no” to him. These incidents took place in his office or mine. They were in the form of private conversations which would not have been overheard by anyone else.
My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex. On these occasions, he would call me into his office for reports on education issues and projects or he might suggest that because of the time pressures of his schedule, we go to lunch to a government cafeteria.
After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid. He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises, or large breasts involved in various sex acts.
On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him at all, and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about these subjects. I would also try to change the subject to education matters or to nonsexual personal matters, such as his background or his beliefs. My efforts to change the subject were rarely successful.
It’s important to recall, of course, where these alleged conversations occurred- in the offices of EEOC- whose mission is to protect discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment in the office had received little media attention up until that point and Hill’s testimony appeared to be a classic example of -if not illegal- improper conduct. This conduct, according to her testimony, would come at intermittent times, seeming to fade, only to return with a vengeance.
The comments were random, and ranged from pressing me about why I didn’t go out with him, to remarks about my personal appearance. I remember him saying that “some day I would have to tell him the real reason that I wouldn’t go out with him.”
He began to show displeasure in his tone and voice and his demeanor in his continued pressure for an explanation. He commented on what I was wearing in terms of whether it made me more or less sexually attractive. The incidents occurred in his inner office at the EEOC.
Hill went on to describe how Thomas’ behavior created stress in the workplace and a fear of retribution.
On other occasions he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex. At this point, late 1982,1 began to feel severe stress on the job. I began to be concerned that Clarence Thomas might take out his anger with me by degrading me or not giving me important assignments. I also thought that he might find an excuse for dismissing me.
In January 1983, I began looking for another job. I was handicapped because I feared that if he found out he might make it difficult for me to find other employment, and I might be dismissed from the job I had.
Another factor that made my search more difficult was that this was during a period of a hiring freeze in the Government. In February 1983,1 was hospitalized for 5 days on an emergency basis for acute stomach pain which I attributed to stress on the job. Once out of the hospital. I became more committed to find other employment and sought further to minimize my contact with Thomas.
The Republican Senators on the committee quickly realized that the confirmation of Clarence Thomas was in real jeopardy. Something had to be done immediately.
With other Republican senators surrendering their allotted time for questioning, two senators, Senator Specter of Pennsylvania and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah quickly sprung to Thomas’ defense. Specter specifically sought to undermine Hill’s testimony with attempts to cast doubt on her credibility as a witness.. It required a fine balancing act, not to come across as bullying and, thereby, arousing a backlash. Specter questioned her motives for coming forward, her honesty and attempted to shore up Thomas’ character references. Many others that had worked with Thomas over the years were brought in to rebut Hill’s testimony, such as Charles A. Kothe, under whom she taught at the Oral Roberts University Law School.
“I find the references to the alleged sexual harassment not only unbelievable, but preposterous. I am convinced that such is the product of fantasy.”
Specter went on to suggest one possible motive was Professor Hill’s “instability,” implying some kind of emotional problem. When Specter accused Hill of perjury, Senator Kennedy pounced on the charge,”There is no proof that Anita Hill has perjured herself and shame on anyone who suggests that she has.”
In fact, Professor Hill voluntarily took a polygraph examination – a lie detector test – which she passed. She was asked about her allegations regarding Judge Thomas, and the test concluded that she was not lying. Thomas, for his part, refused to take the same polygraph examinations.
After Anita Hill made her charges, Senator Danforth assumed a more important role. Every time the committee recessed for a few minutes, Danforth would emerge and address the television cameras. Displaying the serious mien that one might expect from an undertaker, Danforth used the principle of association with great vigor. He would explain why the negative qualities that Specter attributed to Hill were entirely believable, and so forth. In short, Senator Danforth became the Republicans “spin doctor” who was in charge of damage control for Clarence Thomas.
The attack against Anita Hill was sustained and aggressive, well-organized and determined. The White House had invested too much energy and time in Clarence Thomas and allowing- what would undoubtedly be considered- a victory for liberal Democrats was unthinkable.
Clarence Thomas in his own defence, was remained resolute, adamant in his denials. On Friday morning, October 11, he made his final statements. “Enough is enough, he told the panel, “I am not going to allow myself to be further humiliated in order to be confirmed.. No job is worth what I have been through.”
For a moment, it appeared as though Thomas was about to withdraw his name for consideration.
He was to do nothing of the kind.
My name has been harmed, My friends have been harmed. There is nothing this committee, this body, or this country can do to give me back my good name. Nothing.
I will not provide the rope for my own lynching or for further humiliation. I am not going to engage in discussions, nor will I submit to roving questions of what goes on in the most intimate parts of my private life or the sanctity of my bedroom. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private.
Interestingly, in his indignation, Thomas seemed to forget that none of the testimony involved matters of privacy, or Thomas’ bedroom activities. Calling upon the sanctity of the bedroom seems out-of-place since Hill’s claims involved inappropriate office conduct, which were anything but private, as he seems to suggest. To argue that any discussion of sexual harassment is a matter of privacy between two individuals is, at best, misguided and at worst, a travesty.
He offered only this apology for a “misunderstanding.”
I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment. But with that said, if there is anything that I have said that has been misconstrued, by Anita Hill or anyone else, to be sexual harassment then I can say that I am so sorry and I wish I had known, If I did know, I would have stopped immediately and I would not, as I have done over the past two weeks, had to tear away at myself trying to think of what I could possibly have done. But I have not said or done the things that Anita Hill has alleged.
God has gotten me through these days since September 25th and He is my judge.
If one chooses to accept Anita Hill’s claims, then there can be no question of “misunderstanding.” It was not a matter of one or two slips of the tongue or an off-hand remark in poor taste, but Hill’s charges involved repeated and consistent misconduct by a person with authority. Additionally, to add that God would be his judge seems strangely out of place for a man seeking to become the unquestionable voice of justice for a nation.
In his final statement, Thomas used strong emotional imagery, purposefully calculated to create an out flow of righteous indignation from blacks and shame for undecided liberal Democrats.
This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.
This very public but necessary scrutiny of a person’s character, revealing all claims and allegations that they would not wish to discuss, deny or admit is extremely humiliating. However, to equate this examination to a lynching, an act of barbarity, of murder carried out by a mob – with all those racial historical references- was a brilliant but essentially dishonest rhetorical ploy.
And against all odds, Thomas’ maneuver worked.
Without any means of resolving the discrepancies between Hill and Thomas’ testimonies, the Senate, after the 107-day fight over his nomination, voted. Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52–48. Had only three more senators, Judge Thomas would have lost.
Despite the bitterness, the turmoil caused by the Hill allegation had unpredicted positive effects. The episode increased national awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings, sexual harassment cases more than doubled, from 6,127 in 1991 to 15,342 in 1996. Over the same period, awards to victims under federal laws nearly quadrupled, from $7.7 million to $27.8 million.
For Clarence Thomas, those wounds from the confirmation hearing never quite healed. Even today he looks back at that flawed process with disgust and the rift between the black community and Supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas remains.
As Michael Fletcher for the Washington Post writes, in 1998, Thomas, portraying himself once again as a noble victim, confronted his critics:
“It pains me deeply, more deeply than any of you can imagine, to be perceived by so many members of my race as being a harm,” Thomas said. “All the sacrifice, all the long hours studying, were to help, not to hurt.”
Thomas also angrily dismissed as “psycho-silliness” speculation by critics who call his views evidence of his self-hatred or a racial identity crisis. “Despite some of the nonsense that has been said about me by those who should know better . . . I am a man, a black man, an American.”
Clearly Clarence Thomas has bought into his own image that he is a victim of the confirmation process, just as much as he saw himself the victim of the quota system. He appears capable of marvelous but contorted rationalizations.
Following the confirmation, his sponsor, Senator Danforth declared to reporters, “Clarence Thomas is going to surprise a lot of people. He is going to be the people’s justice.” Twenty years have passed and Thomas’ legacy will be something, most will argue, quite to the contrary.
It is particularly ironic and sad that Justice Thomas, in siding with conservative Republicans who, according to Gallup polls, have a clear monopoly on the allegiance of white conservative Americans, could not see how he has been used to complete a larger objective.
This is a judge whose decisions, for instance, in the Citizens United case will make the success of America’s first black president that much more difficult. This is a judge on the Supreme court who has repeatedly failed to recuse himself from important cases before the court despite clear conflicts of interest.This is a judge who has- through his flirtation with special interests, such as Koch brothers- risks being the only second Supreme Court justice in United States’ history to face an impeachment. How can his behavior bring honor to himself or to black Americans?
It is this, Thomas’ lack of reflection on these matters, that is so troubling.
John Dean, who was Richard Nixon’s White House lawyer and whose famous testimony was instrumental in the Watergate investigation, has no doubt whatsoever that Clarence Thomas lied to the Senate Panel during his confirmation hearings. He also makes this interesting observation:
Maybe the way Thomas arrived on the court explains why he operates at the outer edges of court propriety, if not beyond. Maybe because he is held in such low esteem by so many on the bench and at the bar he simply does not care. As his book showed, he is a bitter man. The Washington Post noted that he used his 2007 memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” to “settle scores,” while “scathingly condemning the media, the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court, and the ‘mob’ of liberal elites and activist groups that he says desecrated his life.” In short, he sees himself as a victim, so his actions may be his own private revenge.
Author Vicki Cox in her book on Justice Clarence Thomas relates this revealing insight:
According to Lawrence Baum, Thomas told two of his law clerks that he may remain on the Court until 2034. “The liberals made my life miserable for 43 years, and I am going to make their lives miserable for 43 years.”He has already served on the bench longer than the average Supreme Court justice. He could become one of the longest-serving justices ever.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas appears to be going nowhere.