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. Jen

    The current younger culture of 2010 can not grasp the significance of the controversy of this event. Its not something that happened while Anita was blogging, or texting Thomas. This was way before blogging or texting exited. Anita is at least 20 years younger than Thomas. This was not something that happened at a bar or online. Anita was at a very official job with a government employee, a judge. This wasn't a casual friendly encounter. Thomas was a very old man who put a very young woman in a a very dangerous position with his harassment. If it had not have been Anita working for the much older Thomas, it would have been the next woman who worked for him. If this is what Thomas was doing at work, imagine what he was does in actual free casual time?

    October 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Jen,
      Don't let the facts get in the way of the story you are trying to spin. Thomas is eight years older than Hill. When you lie about such a simple detail it shows you have a biased opinion.
      Thomas 6/23/1948
      Hill 7/30/1956

      October 20, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. The Anti-Hoff

    She's cute – wonder what she's wearing today

    October 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. duke

    If they had a race draft I'd trade his punk azz!
    We could get at least get a pack of now&laters for the man who has sold out more times than a streissand concert!

    October 20, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. duke

    With the installation of Thomas to the supreme it officially became a political joke,stacked by ideologies who only wish to serve the corporate community. SOLD OUT!

    October 20, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. phil

    @Jen...you made a very good point. And yeah. What does Clarence do with his free time if that's how he behaves while at work. And his wife is so obviosly co-dependent. Family secrets most all of us have, and some of us have also covered them up. Thomas' wife should just eat another bowl of xanax and shut her pie hole.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Keith

    Anita got past this long ago and moved on with her life. Why would these two dredge up the past? Clarence and Ginny Thomas sound like the creepiest couple in Washington.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Zhang

    I also watched the hearings. I thought that Anita Hill was more believable. Still think so.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bill

    I find it odd that the press got this story. I can't imagine that Ginny Thomas (not Ginny Hill as stated by Madeline) would want the press to get this. So the only way the press would have got it was thru Anita Hill. What does that say about her? Just because you're quiet doesn't mean you don't have a positive impact. AT the same time I find it hard that Oral Roberts would accept someone if all they were saying was lies. Probably somewhere in-between. Ginny Thomas, if she hasn't apologized by now, she won't ever. Nineteen years – let it go.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • a in austin

      Ginny Thomas is an activist for the teaparty/freedomworks/dick armey bunch....imagine that.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tim

    How soon they forget - or maybe some never knew. Hill gave her confidential "testimony" to the Democrat staff anonymously as a political smear. She was assured that she would remain anonymous. One of Teddy Kennedy's staffers outed her (leaked the testimony) and forced her to admit she was lying or attempt to prove her anonymous charge. After hours of hearings in which Kennedy sat mute, there was no corroboration of her story of any kind, and no other person ever came forward (before or since) with even so much of an observation that he had ever used foul language. A long list of former employees came forward to state that he is an honest and decent man who never ever used offensive language of any kind.

    Except for this one woman's allegation, Thomas is completely clean - there is no "pattern of behavior". The only possible conclusion is that this was a very isolated incident that was completely out of character for Clarence Thomas, or this woman got caught making a political lie that she hoped would remain anonymous. In an interview years later with Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes she refused to discuss any of it (where was her continued outrage?) and said essentially that she was moving on.

    Who is most likely to be lying here?

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

      Then he should have taken the lie detection test...He did fool some of the people, but not all of us.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    Puppy dogs are cute too, but you won't see me pumpin' one of them.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. boydanb203

    I do still believe he really did something inappropriate to her and I think he still using his power to make sure no one comes up and their mouth about it. If notice when he talks is always about him and his view how we should live and think.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jilli

    It's unfortunate for the country that it didn't sink him. He doesn't belong on the bench with a lifetime appointment. His wife sure has a huge pair for even suggesting an apology. Some folks have no shame, or self respect. Ms. Thomas proved that much.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. a in austin

    Ginny Thomas is an activist for the teaparty/freedomworks/dick army bunch – enough said.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. I AM

    I believed you then Anita and I believe you now!

    October 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Doug

    This was a lesson from the Dixiecrat Robert Byrd party that if you are black in America, you do not have the right of ideolical freedom.

    If you dare not march along to the liberal agenda, almost every Democrat in America will attack you in ways that can only be comprehended by seeing how the Nazis in Germany conducted their business in the 1930's.

    Ignorant or evil, there are only two reason to support this party based on its history and what it is doing today.

    Thomas is a man of integrity and courage, two things that a Democrat will never understand.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      Seriously? The fact that you compare Democrats to Nazis makes you guilty of exactly the type of attack you are accusing Democrats of. I am a Democrat and I support Thurgood Marshall's views and am happy he was a Supreme Court Judge. So where does that leave your accusation that Democrats don't believe blacks have the right of idealogical freedom? If anything, Democrats have supported African Americans civil rights more than Republicans ever will.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • sayitlikeyoumeanit

      You are comparing me to the Nazi's...OK, what is wrong with that picture? That is one of the problems with Republicans, you can't just disagree you need to pair it with what is the worst example of human kind ever...That is why you all scare the crap out of me.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emilio

      You and your kind like to project what is in your hearts and minds onto others, You and your ilk would probably prefer the likes of that fairy Adolf Hitler in control of this country. You all like to dress up and pretend that you're so tough, prancing around in you white sheets, planting your burning crosses in people's yard, and destroying the lives and property of decent people whose only crime is being black. You're all a bunch of weak-kneed fairies who find comfort in your pathetic murderous mobs, just like the German fairies did during the Third Reich.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
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