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. TeaClown

    I never could believe Thomas was approved. Yet another stain of moral hypocrisy on Republicans.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Doug

    See, facts and truth have no place in the Democrat party or the hearts of the Democrat drone.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      See, women's rights, human decency, and civil liberty have no place in the Republican Party or the hearts of the Republican drone.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TeaClown

    I see the rabid baggers' can't resist their bigotted urge to castigate the NAACP.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bigsk8fan

    a person is never to corrupt or prejudiced to be approved by republicans to any office. whether it be supreme court or senator or local dog catcher.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. duke

    You people that are defending uncle Thomas should cut it out,your defending him prove you all just love to be the opposition,
    Name the rulings that came from the brilliant uncle Thomas that helped make america better??

    October 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      He sleeps at the bench and doesn't participate. That's their kind of judge!

      October 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. duke

    Does the GOP ever stand up for a african american who is not conservative??

    October 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    Too bad, Anita. You nearly deprived "Justice" Thomas of being able to participate in his two most favorite completely NOT activist rulings of all time, Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United vs. FEC.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    I know a man who worked with Anita Hill for many years. When asked about the scandal, he would reply, "I know Anita Hill very well....and therefore I believe Clarence Thomas". The fellow that said that is as honest a fellow as I have ever known. So I believe Clarence Thomas too.

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

      Dark Helmet: I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.
      Steve: What's that make us?
      Dark Helmet: Absolutely nothing!

      October 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • sayitlikeyoumeanit

      OK, what does that mean? There have been tons of people who have written crazy things about Thomas and you don't believe that? So one person can change your thinking, hmm that is why Palin does so well with some people she tells them and they are believers...Weird.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Doug

    Whenever a white Democrat talks about a conservative African American it sends chills through the bodies of great Americans, taking us back to the deep south of the 1930's when those Democrats would burn crosses and lynch people just because of their skin color.

    Such racism is never acceptable to any conservative in America, yet a majority of Democrats support it as long as the African American is a free thinker who is standing up for ideological freedom in the same way Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on that bus.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      What planet are you living on? Bush was very racist (and you can't call him a Southerner, because he wasn't really from Texas). It wasn't Democrats who were calling Obama the n-word, it was the Tea-baggers. Your prejudice views of Southerners just show how much you know. Since I live in TN, I guess I could be narrow-minded and say you can't go outside your house in any of the Yankee states without being mugged and stabbed to death. But I'm not narrow-minded, that is saved for you and your party. I believe everyone deserved equal rights, unlike you and your party. The hatred you spew just proves my point.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emilio

      Just another Repug rewriting history. Guess you're just catapulting the propaganda, like your erstwhile leader once slipped into a talk he was giving to his mob.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dinae

      Are you crazy?

      October 20, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |

    So much truth to-let a sleeping dog lye-Thomas's wife has no brains,after 19 yrs. she should apalogize to her husband for stirring a hornets nest,now all women will hate both of them!!!!!

    October 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bigwheel10

    Mr. Thomas has a very special gift that republicans love - he is a free thinker who only thinks like they tell him.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mike

    It's a shame for our country that the Senate lacked the spine to reject this one. He's clearly a third rate justice, never asks a question, probably afraid he will reveal his lack of knowledge or understanding. In truth, re Anita Hill, it was 'he said, she said' and never amounted to anything. He should have been rejected on his lack of merit. They were right to reject Bork as a nut-job. so, you win some you lose some.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. duke

    We the black delegation offer Clarence"uncle"Thomas to the white delegation in exchange for carrot top,
    At least he'd have a reason to sellout.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JB tx

    Facts about the case (from wiki)

    How many accusers? 3 not a dozen as posted by Mijnordna. They were Hill; Angela Wright, who was fired from her job, "characterized (Thomas's conduct) as strange behavior but not harassment"; and Sukari Hardnett a former aid who wrote, "although Thomas had not harassed her, she did feel that he had inspected her as a female." What kind of standard is this to accuse any person, man or woman, of harrasment?

    Hill and Thomas maintained a relationship after she no longer worked with him that included dinners and phone conversations. This is not reasonable behavior for a "victim" of the marginal harrassment behavior described by her own testimony. We aren't talking about someone who was brutalized and held captive. This isn't Stockholm Syndrom.

    The judiciary committee was split 7-7, so his confirmation went to the Senate without a recommendation. There were 57 Democrats and 43 Republicans in the Senate. He was confirmed 52-48. I hope I don't have to provide further analysis on the math.

    October 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pablo

    Why do fat white chicks marry black men?

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

      Low self esteem.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandy Carey

      How is this silly post relevant to the discussion??

      October 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
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