Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court Justice. He is reviled in some circles because he is a black conservative. His opinions often track his conservative counterparts, like Antonin Scalia and John Roberts. Unlike other justices, he rarely speaks and even had a streak of seven years without asking a question from the bench. He did finally speak up in 2013, when he joked that a law degree from Yale might be proof of incompetence. Anita Hill was a professor at the University of Oklahoma, who worked with Thomas in the 1980’s in Reagan’s Department of Education and Reagan’s EEOC.
Before we get into the controversy, let us compare Thomas’ and Hill’s lives. Clarence Thomas was born in Pin Point Georgia, a historically black community that was originally founded by freedman (freed slaves) after the Civil War. The town he grew up lacked a sewage system and paved roads. Further, his father left his mother when he was the tender age of two. He moved to live with his maternal grandparents, who lived in a more privileged community and was provided an opportunity for a real education. He then went to college and eventually enrolled in Yale Law School – an impressive feat.
He first worked in Missouri, then in DC for the Reagan administration, before being appointed to the federal bench by George H. W. Bush. After a couple years on the bench, Thurgood Marshall retired. Thomas was nominated to replace Marshall, another black man.
Anita Hill had a similar childhood experience. She was the last child of 13, born to poor farmers in Arkansas. She was the typical female overachiever and attended Oklahoma State University, then Yale Law School. She began working for a local, prestigious law firm in DC. After a year, she became the attorney-adviser for Clarence Thomas. She worked for him for over three years, following him with his various appointments by Reagan. After her time with Thomas, she taught commercial paper and contracts at a couple of law schools before Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court.
Thomas has self-described as having a “strong libertarian streak.” Thomas’ life is emblematic of that. He recognizes that racism hurts blacks, but he also understands that if he works hard, success can be had. He didn’t make any excuses for himself. As for Anita Hill, the same can’t be said. She is an avowed feminist and currently teaches women’s studies and a Critical Race Theory class at Brandeis University. Both disciplines reinforce victimhood over empowerment.
Lead-up To The Nomination
H. W. Bush was looking to promote a black man to replace the esteemed Thurgood Marshall. To be sure, Thomas was on Bush’ short list the year prior, when Bush decided to promote David Souter. However, the nomination was racially tinged from the outset. First, was the fact that Thomas graduated towards the middle of his class at Yale Law. Further, like anything else in life, it is what you do with your education that matters. Thomas had proven himself, time and again, to be very competent at lawyering.
Bush announced in July 1991 that he was going to appoint Thomas to the bench. For the rest of the summer, the Bush administration geared up for what they correctly perceived to be a tough nomination battle. Women’s rights groups all summer prepared to battle the nomination; mostly because he made critical remarks about Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to abortion. This was in spite of that fact that he said he was undecided about the decision. However, feminists couldn’t have predicted the gift they were given to topple his nomination.
Anita Hill’s Testimony
A female at NPR leaked FBI documentation detailing Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. Women’s rights groups and the media began to pressure her to testify. Indeed she did, in October 1991. She testified to a broad array of bizarre behavior on the part of Thomas. She described how he would comment on porn flicks he watched. She alleged he claimed to be well-endowed and was good in the bedroom. A famous claim of hers is that he approached her after he bought a Coke and asked, “Who put a pubic hair on my soda can?” Her testimony was reportedly viewed by over 20 million Americans when she testified.
Hill’s commentary was questioned by the Senate Members on the board. Arlen Spector, then a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, questioned her entire testimony – wondering aloud if it amounted to perjury. Democrats were worried about her credibility, as she was oddly specific about the incidents; later information would prove their fears rights. Two other women claimed to have been approached by Thomas. These two women never testified and it has never been resolved as to quite why.
Two of Thomas’ assistants testified on his behalf. His personal assistant, who worked for him for six years, claimed to never have heard any sexist remarks or sexually harassing speech. Others testified to his adherence to professionalism and strict standards of propriety. Outside those two women who agreed with Hill, nobody testified against Thomas. All of his colleagues testified on his behalf.
Feminists – true to form – immediately began denouncing the proceedings as misogynistic and hateful. They claimed the questioning of Hill wasn’t based on only belief in her truthfulness, but on men wanting to perpetuate the culture of sexual harassment. Remember, this was the zenith of feminism in America – just a couple years later many feminists cheered when Lorena Bobbitt chopped off her husband’s penis.
Feminists stormed the capitol, decrying the sexist patriarchy that supported this man. They spewed all manner of hateful bile towards Thomas, some of it racially charged. Even some black feminists recall having a bad taste in their mouths after the fiasco, as they correctly perceived racism on the part of their sisters. Feminists used this incident to campaign against sexual harassment, penning screeds in major media outlets. Feminists claimed, after the fact, the media was against them, but how could that be the case? How can you claim the media is against you if they are publishing your opinions, giving you serious airtime and treating this allegation as very serious?
Cracks In Anita Hill’s Allegations Appear
Damning evidence against Hill came out. Phone records showed that Thomas and Hill both exchanged numerous private phone calls, including after her employment with him. They also found hard evidence that they went on dates and often went to dinner, even after she left his employ. The Oyez Project at Chicago-Kent Law School – that religiously follows the Supreme Court – concluded there was no substantial evidence to back up Hill’s claims. Further, some female commentators pointed out that women who are really harassed tend to distance themselves as far from their harasser as possible – they don’t go to dinner with him regularly two years after leaving the job.
Thomas was given a chance to respond to the allegations. He smacked the hell out of the allegations, dropping some serious heat in his speech:
“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.”
The Confirmation & Aftermath
Thomas’ nomination went forward to the whole of the Senate. The vote was 52-48 in his favor – by far the closest vote in over century on a Supreme Court nominee. He eventually was sworn in and currently sits on the Supreme Court to this day, consistently ranking as one the most respected Justices.
In the end, Thomas was and is a hardworking, self-made black man who arose from the backwards racism of the 1960’s and 1970’s to become one of the most erudite, perceptive and successful men of his generation. He also dealt with being a black conservative/libertarian his whole life; he stated that it was often tough to engage politically with fellow blacks. He came from nothing and became a symbol of the fading American Dream.
In the appointment of a lifetime, whomever does he see derailing his dreams? A black woman. A black woman he trusted, called and went to dinner with over the course of years, a black woman who helped him professionally. A black woman who falsely accused him of harassment at the time of his ascension to the Supreme Court – an institution that for most of American history pissed all over black people.
He proved that a black person can achieve greatness through the political and legal system. This sort of man is threatening to some – mainly women and some black men. It shows that real success and power can be achieved despite racism. Many people don’t want to hear that nonsense. They want to be coddled and hear about how it somebody else’s fault they aren’t the person they want to be.
To a man like Clarence Thomas that is foolish. He would the last person to deny racism exists and hurts blacks. However, he believes in hard work and bettering himself. He’s a self-made man who deserves accolades not accusations. Look at Anita Hill, a professor of law and women’s studies at Brandeis University. All she does in her job is complain about how bad women have it in society – at a school funded primarily by men’s tax dollars. The dollars that men like Thomas help create.
To this day, Anita Hill has never married and has no kids. She is 55 and has no hope of reproducing. Thomas is happily married with kids and is still hard at work on the Supreme Court.
I wonder who won this battle?
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