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. naoma

    It is really unfortunate that Thomas made it to the Court. Read about him - he has contributed NOTHING in his years
    on the Court.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Roy Rogers

      You are right about that. The fact that Thomas got a spot on the top court is lamentable. It is a wast of a space. 1/9 of the total court is wasted by a say nothing, do nothing incompetent. Perhaps it would be going a tad too far, to say that Thomas is wast of Oxygen. But,not all that far out. For a good take, see the Supreme Court episode of Boston Legal.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy G

      I totally agree. Unfortunate that he got on the SC.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geez


      October 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      The NAACP refused to support Clarence Thomas at the time, since it knew he would not be even close to a worthy successor to Thurgood Marshall. And Ms. Hill passed a polygraph test, which Thomas refused to take. She continues to stand tall, even in this nonsense of a phone call from the Justice's clearly lunatic wife.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geez

      Does the NAACP ever stand up for an African American thats Conservative? Nope. Its that old Liberal mantra. We welcome and encourage people to be free thinkers... unless they disagree. Same goes with womens rights groups. They are more interested in promoting their ideaology.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sophie

      I agree, he contributed nothing, and also that was a different time, no cell phone or emails, so she didn't have enough proof, I guess. If it had happened today, there would be all different evidence with technology help. Otherwise, I 100% believe her. Just very sad he is not efficient justice at all.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • jas tiger

      Clarence Thomas is, has been and always WILL BE a joke.
      He can't lie about the fact affirmative action helped him to get into law school,
      become the quintissential posterboy for clinical self-hate, and expect anything but derision...
      His mantra: "I'll outlive my detractors."
      What a gloomy prospect if he's right.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      I had friends in the 1980s who used to call on Clarence Thomas before he got on the Supreme Court. Thomas's reputation was this: if you wanted to do business with him, you had to take him to a strip club to see women get naked. He treated women like garbage, and was not liked by his staff, both black and white, or by the folks that had to do business with him. It's unfortunate that no one except Anita Hill had the courage to step forward, and speak the truth about his character. This has nothing to do about politics or skin color.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moo

      naoma: "It is really unfortunate that Thomas made it to the Court. Read about him – he has contributed NOTHING in his years on the Court."

      Said like a true moron.

      I take it you've never read any Supreme Court opinions? Much less any of the ones written by Thomas?

      'say nothing do nothing moron'

      Thomas says nothing because he realizes, like most lawyers, that appellate arguments are a sideshow. At most they're intended to clarify subtle issue or to hear developmental arguments on issues not expanded on in the briefs.

      'if there were modern technology he'd be guilty'

      So you assume his guilt while knowing you have no evidence against him? Brilliant.

      It's nice to see people take a stand against Thomas simply because he's a conservative. Really shows the depth of your intelligence and the breadth of your toleration.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raymond H. Burgoon-Clark

      Agreed. His appointment was an insult to the memory of Thurgood Marshall.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mehdi General Dr Bad

      Per Chance do you know where i cna Find Army Nurse Deborah Christiane D'Angelo From New Jersey?

      October 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy

      Moo, you are not the sharpest tool in the shed, just a tool! There were all kinds of people coming out of the woodwork after Hill, condemming this guy. But Bush wouldn't be stopped. They wanted him in there. But then again, the GOP doesn't have much respect for women.

      October 20, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kurt Edson

      I hate to say, I wasted alot of work hours, 20 years ago on this,. I belive Anita, even though some didn't. Clarance, on the other hand, needs to get control of his wife, what is she thinking? I feel that Clarance will be the first Justice removed from office, if his wife continues talking.

      October 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Donald

    Obviousy the events that happened years ago are weighing heavily on Virginia's mind and she wants it resolved in a way that's best for her and Clarence. That ain't gonna happen.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. phil

    As if one of the "South Park" girls would appologize for Token's pee-pee being found on one of their lunchboxes.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    Apologies that have to be demanded of someone aren't worth having.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • PJ

      Great quote! And true....

      October 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. luckysays

    Why is it the Anita Hill Scandal vs the Clarence Thomas Scandal? I fail to see why we have to further punish the victim?

    October 20, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • leelanau_bear

      You're right. It should only be referred to as the Anita Hill scandal.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      You are correct, Luckysays, Professor Hill was then and still is the vicitm (in spite of the other idiot reply). The Senate Judiciary Committee had to subpoena Ms. Hill-she did not testify voluntarily. She also passed a polygraph test, which Clarence Thomas refused to take. He has also been the embarrassment on the Court which the NAACP predicted.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • a in austin

      Ms. Thomas is an activist for the Teaparty/FreedomWorks/Dick Armey.....imagine that!

      October 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Madeline

    Ginny Hill is a moron. Time has shown Professor Hill is a truthful, ethical woman and Clarence Thomas is an incompetent. Why would she want to hold her husband up to public ridicule again?

    October 20, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  7. Viv Jordan

    Back when this all happened there was a bumper sticker that said " I believe you Anita". Well I still believe Anita.

    October 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • rs1201

      I never doubted Anita Hill for a nanosecond

      October 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janelle Meehan

      So do I. I've always believed Anita.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill LaPlante

      I, too, always believed Anita Hill, and was disgusted when Clarence Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court. But, that's politics in the U.S.A. We don't always "do the right thing". Of course, the "right thing" is definition is completely different in each party. Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying, "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing... once they have exhausted all other possiblities".

      October 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dinae

      I believe Anita

      October 20, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jj

      There was also a button that said, "Anita Was Right!" And she was and is!

      October 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sue

    Anita Hill is not a nice person. Mean-spirited individuals do not apologize. Very sad.

    October 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hiram

      Rather mean spirited remark there yourself. Now, will you apologize?

      October 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Don't forget it was "Ginni" who started this latest crapfest.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dolly

      Apologize for telling the truth?. She passed a lie dector which Clarence would not take, does this tell you anything. Of course not, you are a DUMB one and the HATE is YOURS!!

      October 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      You're right. Mean-spirited people do not apologize. Ginni Thomas should have been calling to apologize to Anita Hill, the one that was the victim. Instead she was trying to demand an apology from Anita. Now that is mean-spirited.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • stanton


      October 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sayitlikeyoumeanit

      Are you kidding me Sue? What are you talking about? To what is she supposed to apologize for? You are mean spirted, not she.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      I think Thomas was mean and evil, and he lied to the conservative, Republican senators too. Those senators really downgraded Hill during those hearing. Of course, conservative Republicans would never do anything wrong. Just look at their action the past 2 years and they are getting away with it.

      October 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin H

      I do not know either Dr. Hill or Mrs. Clarence Thomas. I know one thing. Anita Hill told the truth and Clarence Thomas at the very least lied by omission. For a lie of omission and doing so under oath Bill Clinton was excoriated by the right wing and then subjected to a Senate trial and convicted but not sentenced. The double standard here is obvious. Justice Thomas' wife's latest voice mail is an obvious effort to cleanse Justice Thomas' rather sullied record. If he served until he dies he will be remembered as the Justice who was to take the place of Thurgood Marshall but failed in every respect. Then they will mention the Anita Hill allegation and that will be the sum total of his legal career. I can see why Mrs. Thomas would want to redeem her husband's legacy after all being a cheerleader for the right wing isn't exactly an accomplishment she can be proud of and less so of being the wife of a man who clearly lacks in terms of character.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emilio

      Sue, you must either be in possession of the brain the size of a pea, or perhaps you're just trying to stir the proverbial pot.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sandy

    Her testimony should have kept Thomas off the court. I like to think that we've learned something in the intervening years, and if it happened again such testimony would prevail. One thing is sure: Anita has gone on to live a good life and have a strong career, despite unwelcome media exposure. Thomas has gone on to being an almost invisible member of the court, so little has he accomplished. Demanding an apology now only invites scrutiny of his professional accomplishments. Oops.

    October 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Judith Gracey

    Ms. Hill has absolutely nothing to apologize for! What brought this on?
    Move on Virginia!

    October 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. abby1

    I think that Virginia Thomas has been drinking too much of her tea. She needs to lay off the tea bags and move on.

    October 20, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eliz B

    It's easy to see who wears the str8p-on in the Thomas house LOL!

    October 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sue

    Anita Hill was caught lying and embarrassed herself in front of millions of Americans. Ms. Hill should just man up and do the correct thing for once and apologize. People will look up to you afterward, just like many have gained respect for Clinton after he apologized.

    October 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • pf

      what palnet r u living on or r u living???

      October 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julia

      Lying? She passed a lie-detector test! HE refused to take one! She did not even want to testify in front of them, she was forced by court order.

      Why does everyone scorn this woman who was forced to testify under court order, told the truth, and passed a lie detector test? She didn't even want to testify!

      October 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kirsten

      Sue...does your mother (or doctor) know you have access to a computer?

      October 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck

      Anita took the lie detector and passed, while Clarence refused to take the same lie detector test. Who is lying, Sue?

      October 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • sayitlikeyoumeanit

      You are truly delusional, are you just trying to get a rise out of people? He was a snake, will always be a snake and now his wife is trying to create a problem so we don't look at what she is really up to. Actually she is pretty scary.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gloria a. garcia

    I watched the hearings on tv. For Justice Thurgood Marshall to be replaced by a man like Clarence Thomas was a disgrace to the Court.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      I totally agree. Thurgood Marshall had some big shoes to fill, but Clarence Thomas doesn't even come close. He doesn't even try! Which is probably a good thing since he is against civil rights, not for them.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Blake

    A nobody. A tool of the far left.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • LADY-T


      October 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
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