October 20th, 2010
11:02 AM ET

Anita Hill scandal almost sank Clarence Thomas

Anita Hill testified in 1991 about about claims of sexual advances from then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Who is Anita Hill and what does Justice Clarence Thomas' wife want her to apologize for?

Before Thomas became a federal judge, he worked in the Department of Education and later was chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990.

After President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, Thomas underwent nomination hearings in the U.S. Senate and a vote was scheduled.

Two days before the scheduled vote, Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her boss at the Education Department and the EEOC.

Time magazine described what followed as an "ugly circus" in which both Thomas and Hill were "eviscerated."

Hill testified that Thomas repeatedly asked her out on dates and spoke to her crudely about his sexual prowess and things he had seen in pornographic movies. She said she rebuffed his advances and always tried to change the subject when he started talking about sex.

Read a transcript of Hill's testimony and Thomas' rebuttal here.

She said the harassment died down for a while, so she felt safe following him to his new position at the EEOC. However, the push for dates and the sexual talk resumed and even escalated at the new job, she told the committee, whose chairman was Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware.

"He began to show displeasure in his tone of voice and his demeanor in his continued pressure for an explanation [of why I wouldn't go out with him]," Hill testified. "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.

"One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, 'Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'"

Hill said she was hospitalized for five days with severe stomach pain that she attributed to job-related stress, and she subsequently sought employment elsewhere.

She said she finally consented to go to dinner with Thomas one time on her last day of employment with the government. During that dinner, she said, Thomas told her that if she ever told anyone about his behavior it would ruin his career.

"This was not an apology, nor was it an explanation," she said.

The media went crazy over Hill's testimony, which was carried live on television and radio. Some senators and others who supported Thomas questioned her truthfulness and even her mental state.

Thomas demanded that he be allowed to rebut Hill's allegations and clear his name before the Senate decided on his confirmation, so the vote was postponed for a week.

"This is a person I have helped at every turn in the road, since we met," Thomas told the Judiciary Committee. "She seemed to appreciate the continued cordial relationship we had since day one. She sought my advice and counsel, as did virtually all of the members of my personal staff.

"During my tenure in the executive branch as a manager, as a policymaker, and as a person, I have adamantly condemned sex harassment. There is no member of this committee or this Senate who feels stronger about sex harassment than I do. As a manager, I made every effort to take swift and decisive action when sex harassment raised or reared its ugly head.

"The fact that I feel so very strongly about sex harassment and spoke loudly about it at EEOC has made these allegations doubly hard on me. I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment."

The Senate confirmed Thomas' nomination on October 15, 1991, on a 52-48 vote, the closest Supreme Court confirmation vote in history.

Thomas would later refer to the hearings as a "high-tech lynching for an uppity black."

Thomas went on to become one of the most conservative justices on the court, and one of the least heard. He seldom asks questions during oral arguments and rarely grants interviews, but a 2004 Washington Post profile suggests he carries considerable clout.

Hill now teaches law at Brandeis University and spends her free time painting and drawing, according to a 2005 CNN.com article.

The controversy over Hill's allegations brought workplace sexual harassment out into the open. According to a George Mason University analysis of EEOC documents, sexual harassment cases more than doubled in the five years following Thomas' nomination. Over the same period, awards to victims under federal laws jumped from $7.7 million to $27.8 million, records showed.

The scandal became a textbook case for teaching about sexual harassment and how employees and employers should deal with it.

The case also may have spurred more women to get into politics, as many women were appalled by the way Hill was questioned by the all-male Senate panel.

"Anita Hill focused attention on the fact that there were no women in that Senate panel making decisions about people's lives," said Harriett Woods, then president of the National Women's Political Caucus, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Illinois.

Check out this archival material from Time:

Sex, Lies and Politics: He Said, She Said

Clarence Thomas: A Question of Character
Anita Hill's Legacy in the Workplace

'Strange Justice': A Book on Clarence Thomas

Smearing Anita Hill: A Writer Confesses

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Filed under: Anita Hill • Politics • Supreme Court • U.S.
soundoff (140 Responses)
  1. Julia

    joholt, you say that a young black woman was not heard. But there was at least one young black woman who WAS heard. I do not recall the age and race of the other women who testified in Thomas' defense, but I do recall an articulate, intelligent young black woman who testified she had worked with Thomas for years and never seen any of the type of behavior Hill accused him of. So at least one young black woman was heard by those who voted to confiirm Thomas...it just wasn't Anita Hill they believed.

    October 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. pw

    I believe anita hill was harrass by clarence thomas. Clarence thomas couldn't make it as corporate attorney for monsato

    October 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ClearMindedBlack&Straight

    Why do Black people hate Justice Thomas the way they do? He never took anybody's property illegally, or stopped anyone from succeding or making progress!

    Simply because the man refuses to support Wrong ideologies which pitch Blacks against White folks - unlike Luise Farrakhan who has called White people and Jews all sorts of ugly names– yet hailed a "heroe" in most Black people's circles!!

    Annita Hill is a very Typical Black woman who would work in the "shadows" for evil-minded folk inorder to castrate any prominent Black male Who does NOT see putting White people down as something right - as if Black people were Saints and Holy Angels dropped directly from the The Creator's laps!

    Anitta Hill is a crafty, cunning Liar who believed her own lies such that they became subconscious Law that she could confidently live, creating in her a state of consciousness as being truthful and dependable by a mechanical device(lie detector).

    Why did she NOT report this terrible behavior long before the "hearing" - and why continue moving along to another job with a man whose behavior is so unacceptable?

    Anita is evil and diabolical(like the Biblical Eve in the story of man's fall– most likely she wanted Thomas so badly, BUT he paid NO or very little Attention to her, so she went on a high profile revenge!!

    Why was Anita tapped to give a "nameless" testimony against Thomas?

    Let it be known for sure:Justice Thomas is Not a Luise Farrakhan(in support of evils that Blacks do, blaming past slavery as cause); and, above all–there is no legal proof beyond all reasonable doubt that Anita's hatched lies is/was TRUE !!

    October 20, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Noir Angel.

    Is Clarence Thomas Wife for real?..A what?.Anita Hill owes you and your husband nothing. Clarence Thomas wife just want some tabloid head line.Why should Anita Hill be sorry about some thing i firmly believe is true.I believed her then and i still believe after all these years."Who Put a Pubic on my Coke?..That's the famous line yet.It didn't matter to me if those azz wipe confirm Clarence Thomas or not,that still doesn't say he is not guilty..If it was a white woman accused him of such behavior regardless if it was true or not,Clarence Thomas wouldn't be on Capital Hill.
    Anita Hill didn't do any thing wrong.Thomas is the culprit.Genni or what ever she call herself,should get lost and shut the hell up.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Obama Mama

    To mention another lady came forward, when Clarences wife came out with she owes Clarence an apology. (How ridiculous) I believe Anita Hill.

    August 1, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
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