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. Bob Inalong

    I remember watching this and not being able to make up my mind. They were both so credible. The minute Thomas said "Hi-Tech lynching of a Black Man" I knew he was lying. All of the resources he had to fall back on to defend himself, and he plays the race card right out of the gate? He was a Republican appointee being accused by a black woman. How is that "lynching a black man"? The man is a disgrace to his robes and his wife is in heavy, heavy denial.

    October 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. nick

    There were others ready to testify – google it – who testimony was NOT allowed since they missed a cutoff date Thomas was typical of 80's era male chauvnists like druggies could not take responsibliy for their own crimes

    October 20, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Inalong

      You're absolutely right about the other women waiting to testify. The 80's male chauvinist/druggies comment is out there however.

      October 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 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 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    Another attempt by CNN to dig up ancient bones to rejuvinate the left.

    EPIC FAIL the left is done in 2 weeks baby

    October 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tom

    It is interesting that not one other person, of the many who must have worked with or around Justice Thomas over the years that his career spanned, prior to becoming a justice of the Supreme Court, ever corroborated or made a single accusation along the lines of Anita Hill. That would lead to the conclusion that what Anita Hill claimed took place was a one-off, directed only towards her. Not very likely...

    October 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • nick

      you are a pathetic liar

      October 20, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Inalong

      There were at least two other women waiting to testify to the exact same stuff and they were never called. As far as his contribution to the SC? He's a coat hanger.

      October 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nick


    October 20, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Adam

    @John: Another attempt by CNN to dig up ancient bones to rejuvinate the left.

    ??? I used to come to CNN because it was fairly balanced, and then I would check out Fox and MsNBC a couple times a week to get the right and left slants. CNN is hardly left! They have been drifting right, if anything, and their news has become frustratingly weak. I check in on CNN occasionally, hoping they get back to their old caliber, but I get more and more disappointed.

    October 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ken

    The REAL tragedy is that it didn't sink him. He's been a waste of oxygen on the court ever since.

    October 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bud

    "ALMOST" only counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Otherwise, it's DID or DIDN'T. Learn some logic CNN.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. joholt

    As a Missourian, whose Senator John (doolittle) Danforth was the champion of Thomas, I apologize to the nation for our folly and the stupidity of our Senator. He really is too good a man to have bought in to the inability of Thomas, and should have seen that Thomas was not ready for prime time, but did not. He was well thought of in Washington and sold Thomas as a competent jurist–a real sad scam and a lie. Hill should have been believed by the Senate, but what can you say for that old and sad bunch of white men? Nothing a young black woman said was believed. Sorry.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Willy Brown

    Yeah the liberal’s sent out their best plantation owned but is fell apart like all liberal lies do when it comes to trying to ruin people of color who are not on the progressive plantation.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Inalong

      It was Thomas who hid behind his

      October 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Inalong

      It was Thomas who hid behind his race. The first words out of his mouth were "High Tech Lynching of a Black Man." That was when I knew he did it. I was in the undecided column until then. Take your RW crap and go troll somewhere else.

      October 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. joanne

    I also feel that she in some way believes her husband did do this. And the only person that can take away that suspition is Anita Hill. Thats where the apology comes in. I never believed him

    October 20, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Donald in CA

    Uncle thomas is the worst justice on the supreme court. He is a total embarrassment to not only the black community, but should be to any community. If uncle tom is in Webster, a smilling picture of clarence should be next to the definition.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. kamana kapu

    I cannot think of a single reason why a woman should lie. What is there for them to lie about? They are not treacherous, deceitful, cowardly, lecherous, lustful, violent, slavish or murderous like we men are. I may not know Clarence Thomas well but I know the human male way too well. For those who may not be aware of the facts we men are liars, bullies, cowards, back-stabbers, thieves, rapists, slavers, warmongers and murderers and our No. 1 enemies, No. 1 targets, and No. 1 victims have always been the human female and their children.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michelle

    Too bad being educated doesn't make one smart.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
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