Anita Hill Allegations
Toward the end of the confirmation hearings, an FBI interview with Anita Hill was leaked. Hill, an attorney, had worked for Thomas at the Department of Education and had subsequently moved with Thomas to the EEOC. After the leak, Hill was called to testify at Thomas's confirmation hearings. She testified that Thomas had subjected her to comments of a sexual nature, which she felt constituted sexual harassment or at least "behavior that is unbefitting an individual who will be a member of the Court." Hill's testimony included lurid details, and some Senators aggressively questioned her.
Thomas denied the allegations, saying:This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.
Hill was the only person to testify at the Senate hearings that there had been unsolicited sexual advances. Angela Wright, who worked under Thomas at the EEOC before he fired her, decided not to testify, but submitted a written statement alleging that Thomas had pressured her for a date and had made comments about the anatomy of women. However, she said she did not feel his behavior was intimidating nor did she feel sexually harassed, though she allowed that "Some other women might have". Also, Sukari Hardnett, a former Thomas assistant, wrote to the Senate committee saying that although Thomas had not harassed her, she did feel that he had inspected her as a female.
Other former colleagues testified on Thomas's behalf. Nancy Altman, who shared an office with Thomas at the Department of Education, testified that she heard virtually everything Thomas said over the course of two years, and never heard any sexist or offensive comment. Altman did not find it credible that Thomas could have engaged in the conduct alleged by Hill, without any of the dozens of women he worked with noticing it. Senator Alan K. Simpson was puzzled about why Hill and Thomas met, dined, and spoke by phone on various occasions after they no longer worked together.
According to the Oyez Project, there was a lack of convincing proof produced at the Senate hearings. After extensive debate, the Judiciary Committee split 7–7 on September 27, sending the nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation. Thomas was confirmed by a 52–48 vote on October 15, 1991, the narrowest margin for approval in more than a century. The final floor vote was mostly along party lines: 41 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted to confirm while 46 Democrats and two Republicans voted to reject the nomination. Newspaper coverage of Thomas's private life was limited after he was confirmed.
Thomas received his commission and took the two required oaths several days after the Senate vote; this process was delayed by the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist's wife, but the delay was reduced at the request of Thomas. He indicated that he was eager to get to work, and an additional reason for reducing the delay was to end further media inquiry into Thomas's private life. Reporters largely stopped such inquiries after Thomas joined the Court, despite new information potentially corroborating some of Hill's testimony including her description of Thomas's alleged entertainment preferences. Throughout this episode, Thomas defended his right to privacy, refused to describe discussions that he may have had outside the workplace regarding his personal life, and promised that he would not allow anyone to probe his private life.
The debate over who was telling the truth continues. Clarence Thomas wrote an autobiography addressing Anita Hill's allegations, and she also wrote an autobiography addressing her experience in the hearings.
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