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Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas - 16 Years after Her Senate Testimony

He Said, She Said: The Battle Continues

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There's no burying the hatchet between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Brandeis University Professor Anita Hill, the woman who publicly accused him of sexual harassment. And the October 2007 publication of his memoir My Grandfather's Son, indicates that time has healed none of the wounds inflicted upon Thomas during Hill's Senate testimony opposing his 1991 Supreme Court nomination.

In fact, it's reignited the smoldering grudge match after a not-so-sweet sixteen year break in the fight over what did or didn't happen back when she worked for him at the Department of Education, then later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan Administration.

When Clarence Met Anita

As a subordinate, Hill had declined Thomas's ongoing invitations to go out socially, concerned that "having a social relationship with a person who was supervising my work would be ill advised. I was very uncomfortable with the idea and told him so."

Yet Thomas continued to ask Hill out and, as she put it, "began to use work situations to discuss sex....His conversations were very vivid."

Off-Color Office Chitchat

On October 15, 1991, Hill testified against Thomas during his Supreme Court Justice nomination hearings before the Senate. Her testimony involved her recollections of conversations with Thomas in which he discussed pornographic films involving bestiality and rape scenes, described the size of his "larger than normal" male member, and asked her about a hair (not from the head) found on his can of Coke.

Not Once, But Twice

At the time of her testimony, doubts were raised as to her veracity. Critics brought up the fact that she had followed him from one job to another, indicating that their relationship must not have been uncomfortable to her as she was willing to work with him again. Her response - which resonated with many women and fell on the deaf ears of many men- was that "the work, itself, was interesting, and at that time, it appeared that the sexual overtures, which had so troubled me, had ended."

The Story According to Thomas

Despite her testimony, Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court was approved, and Hill was vilified by several media outlets.

Sixteen years after the fact, Thomas's memoirs were published in My Grandfather's Son in which he revisited the Senate hearings and reopened a wound that has never closed to either party's satisfaction.

The Story According to Hill

Hill rebutted his statements in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times:

Justice Thomas has every right to present himself as he wishes in his new memoir....But I will not stand by silently and allow him, in his anger, to reinvent me....Justice Thomas offers a litany of unsubstantiated representations and outright smears...that I was a "combative left-winger" who was "touchy" and prone to overreacting to "slights." A number of independent authors have shown those attacks to be baseless....It's no longer my word against his.

Justice Thomas's characterization of me is also hobbled by blatant inconsistencies. He claims that I was a mediocre employee who had a job in the federal government only because he had "given it" to me....I was fully qualified...having graduated from Yale Law School (his alma mater, which he calls one of the finest in the country), and passed the District of Columbia Bar exam, one of the toughest in the nation.

....In a particularly nasty blow, Justice Thomas attacked my religious conviction, telling 60 Minutes..."She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed"....[H]e conveniently forgot that he wrote a letter of recommendation for me to work at the law school at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa.

Over, But Not Yet Done

Although both Thomas and Hill have moved on with their lives, there has been speculation that Thomas has never gotten over the situation despite his years on the Supreme Court. My Grandfather's Son doesn't serve as evidence to the contrary. The same can be said for Hill.

Yet, in the closing paragraphs of her op-ed response, she observes:

"...we have made progress since 1991. Today, when employees complain of abuse in the workplace, investigators and judges are more likely to examine all the evidence and less likely to simply accept as true the word of those in power....[Q]uestions remain about how we will resolve the kinds of issues my testimony exposed. My belief is that in the past 16 years we have come closer to making the resolution of these issues an honest search for the truth..."

The manner in which employers handle sexual harassment claims today has taken a complete 180 degree turn from how they were handled before. If what he said and she said had anything to do with it, then perhaps the sacrifice of Thomas's reputation and Hill's credibility - for the greater good - was justified.

Sources:

Hill, Anita. "The Smear This Time." New York Times 2 October 2007

"Testimony of Anita F. Hill, Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 37."U.S. Government Printing Office (1991-10-11)

Suggested Reading:

Biography of Clarence Thomas

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