Skip to comments.The Clarence Thomas Nomination, 20 Years Later (Looking back at the Anita Hill Hearings)
Posted on 10/21/2011 9:47:55 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Pres. George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court on July 1, 1991. Four days later, the National Organization for Women (NOW) declared war.
“We’re going to bork him,” vowed member Flo Kennedy. “We need to kill him politically.”
To “bork,” according to William Safire’s Political Dictionary, is “to viciously attack a presidential nominee, blackening his name in an all-out effort to defeat his confirmation by the Senate.” The verb stems from the name of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s ill-fated nominee Robert Bork, whose confirmation the Senate rejected, 42–58, in 1987.
By 1991, Republican presidents had appointed the last nine members of the Court (though not every nominee had proven to be conservative). Roe v. Wade had been on the books for 18 years, but its supporters were worried. Here was a black Republican — to fill the seat that Thurgood Marshall had held for 24 years, no less. And the Democrat-controlled Senate was poised to confirm him.
“We will not sit quietly by while the Democratic Senate acquiesces to this court-packing strategy,” promised Patricia Ireland, vice president of NOW.
They were anything but quiet. NOW waged a national campaign to defeat Thomas. The National Education Association joined the cause, passing a resolution expressing “grave concern” over Thomas’s position on “reproductive freedom.”
By any means, Thomas was qualified. He was a graduate of Yale Law School who had spent eight years as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and one year as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But perhaps his most beneficial experience was a stint as an aide to Sen. Jack Danforth (Mo.), a moderate Republican whom the Bush administration asked to shepherd his nomination through the Senate. Before the Judiciary Committee held hearings, Danforth accompanied Thomas on over 60 visits with senators.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.), assisted the feminists’ assault on Thomas. The Senate had confirmed the 43-year-old judge for other positions, so there was no need for a thorough investigation. Yet Biden delayed the hearings until late September.
“It was an intentional delay,” remembers former senator Hank Brown, (R., Colo.). “It was designed to accommodate the people who went after him.”
In the first round of questioning, the Democrats tried to pin down Thomas’s judicial philosophy — that is, they tried to get him to talk about Roe v. Wade. They were skeptical when he told them he had never discussed the infamous case. But in his memoir, Thomas explains, “In law school I’d been a self-styled ‘lazy libertarian’ who saw abortion as a purely personal matter. . . . Roe was handed down after I studied constitutional law.”
Mostly splitting along party lines, the committee defeated a motion to recommend his confirmation, but Thomas survived. (Only one Democrat, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, voted in Thomas’s favor.) On Sept. 27, 1991, the committee voted to send his nomination to the floor without a recommendation. The Senate scheduled a vote on Thomas’s nomination for October 8, and Danforth believed Thomas would get about 67 votes.
Then he got a phone call from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).
It was the night of October 5, and Danforth was watching a movie at home with his wife. When he picked up the phone, Hatch was on the line. He told Danforth that National Public Radio was running a story the next morning about a former assistant to Thomas named Anita Hill, who had alleged he had sexually harassed her.
“Oh, Orrin,” Danforth replied. “No one’s going to believe that.”
Hatch was less sanguine. “This is going to be tough,” he said.
Initially, Hill didn’t want to testify before Congress. The FBI had promised her anonymity, and the bureau had briefed the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee on her allegations.
“Biden had already signed off on the FBI report as not cause for any delay in the proceedings,” says Boyden Gray, then counsel to the president. Hill’s allegations didn’t add up: The FBI determined that “what she was complaining about had occurred — based on her own timeline — two or three months before she had ever met Thomas.” Nonetheless, “once it was leaked to the public, it started the whole thing all over again.”
Hatch tells National Review Online he knows who leaked the report to the media. It was an “extremely liberal staff member for one of the members of the committee” who wanted to destroy Thomas’s chances for getting on to the Court.
That staffer was almost successful. After the story broke, Danforth went to console Thomas. “He was awful,” Danforth says. “Just dissolved in tears. Everything that he was as a person had been sullied.”
Feminist groups demanded that Democrats reopen the hearings, and Biden complied. What followed was a circus: days of testimony in which Hill enumerated Thomas’s supposed sexual transgressions and senators, awkwardly, asked Thomas to discuss them.
To this day, Danforth recoils at the hatred that the feminist groups felt toward Thomas. “It was unacceptable to put a black man who was pro-life on the Court. They couldn’t tolerate it, so they had to defeat him.”
And Hill’s allegations made their goal easier. “He was supposed to be a stand-in for every man who had been cruel to women,” Danforth says.
But the dignity with which Thomas handled himself reaffirmed the Republican caucus’s confidence in him.
“He was miraculous in how he handled it,” says Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who sat on the committee. “He handled it in a way that looked responsible.”
Hatch, a friend of Thomas, wasn’t surprised. “I believed Clarence Thomas,” Hatch says. “He is a very honest man.”
And Hatch knew Thomas could defend himself. When Sen. Ted Kennedy and he were once interrogating Thomas at a hearing on the EEOC, Thomas grew so irritated with Kennedy that he slammed his fist on a table and said, “Senator, I was born in poverty. I was raised by my grandparents. It was a tough time, but they taught me values. And in our living room were pictures of three people: Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. Senator, I think if President Kennedy is watching these proceedings now, he can’t very well be pleased.”
“I wanted the same Clarence Thomas,” Hatch says.
And he got him. On October 11, Thomas told the senators precisely how he felt about the hearings:
This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace.
And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, 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.
“I knew at that point we were not going to lose this battle,” Hatch says. Other White House staffers agreed with him. When doubts about Hill’s veracity started mounting, Biden closed the hearings. Even the news media backed off.
“I knew things were getting better once our position in the evening news wasn’t position one, wasn’t position two — maybe we were even after the commercial break,” says Fred McClure, then chief of the Office of Legislative Affairs.
“I think the senators were collectively ashamed of what happened in the Thomas hearings,” says Dick Thornburgh, Bush’s attorney general.
On Oct. 15, 1991, the Senate confirmed Thomas by the razor-thin margin of 52–48. The vote needn’t have been so close. “At least two of the top members on the Judiciary Committee told me they believed Thomas, but that they were going to vote against him. I was very disappointed,” Hatch says. In addition to those two, he avers, “Senator Kennedy knew Thomas was innocent. I believe he knew it.”
Now, Thomas has been on the court for 20 years, and during that time, he has been the strongest practitioner of originalism — sometimes writing a lone dissenting opinion to cite this conservative judicial philosophy.
The men who helped him through the confirmation hearings appreciate his jurisprudence. “I think he’s writing some of the best opinions on the Court right now,” Hatch says.
“I hope he stays on there till he’s 95 years old,” Grassley adds.
And despite the trouble it took to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, Bush’s former chief of staff, John Sununu, has no regrets: “Clarence Thomas has been such a great Supreme Court justice; it was worth all the battle we had to go through.”
— Brian Bolduc is a reporter for National Review Online.
FROM A HIGH TECH LYNCHING TO IMPEACHMENT
Someday historians will acknowledge the direct causal relationship between the near high tech lynching of Clarence Thomas and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Liberal partisans such as Nina Totenberg, disguised as reporters, contrived as feminists to enrage much of the world against Clarence Thomas for alleged offenses which, in the wake of Clinton's sordid grotesqueries and felonies committed during the Monica Lewinsky affair, can only be considered trivial. What exactly did Thomas do to Anita Hill? She testified for the first time years after the alleged facts, that he (1) exclaimed that there was a "pubic hair" on his coke can and that he (2) had seen the movie Long Dong Silver. She also alleged that Thomas repeatedly (3) asked her out, (4) bragged of his sexual prowess, and (5) said that he had satisfied women with oral sex.
What Bill Clinton did a couple of years later was so egregious that it renders these unsubstantiated allegations merely frivolous, a fey neuroses of a bizarre era: Bill Clinton, in contrast to Thomas, sodomized a young intern in the Oval Office with a cigar and masturbated into the presidential sink; Bill Clinton repeatedly talked dirty to his young intern over the telephone while they mutually masturbated ; Bill Clinton suffered his young intern to fellate him while she was crouched under the presidential desk. I wonder what Nina Totenberg's reaction would have been had she learned that Bill Clinton had committed the atrocity of asking Monica Lewinsky out on a formal date?
Liberals say that the matter of sexual harassment is all about redressing the imbalance of the power relationship between men and women, between master and servant, and between boss and employee. Of course, the relationship of Clinton and Lewinsky fit this template perfectly. But the Clintons did not stop there, they tag-teamed women who complained of sexual mistreatment (even actual assaults) by Bill Clinton and compounded his original crimes. Gennifer Flowers was made to lie publicly to protect Bill Clinton, to sign a perjurious affidavit denying their relationship, and suffered having her apartment ransacked. Kathleen Willey was intimidated professionally by ominous strangers. Juanita Broderick was admonished by Hillary Clinton, the implication clear that Broderick was to remain silent about her rape by Bill Clinton. Those women whose silence and lies could not be assured by intimidation were vilified, publicly humiliated, and discredited as "sluts and nuts".
There are other such examples that make anyone who has even the most cavalier concern for women's rights righteously indignant. The Nina Totenberg's of the world never turned a hair.
It is hard to believe how the liberals succeeded with the Thomas hearings in convulsing a nation over these frivolous charges which were very likely untrue, explicitly denied, and otherwise uncorroborated. For three days the nation sat transfixed before its television sets absorbing a drama played out in the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate.
As a result of these proceedings it is possible, if not likely, that four leftist women were added to the United States Senate as Democrats: Murray, Moseley-Braun, Mikulski, Feinstein, and Boxer. Indeed, 1992, the year following the hearings, became known as the "Year of the Woman." The ripple effect from these proceedings extended beyond politics and beached again in the judiciary as Bill Clinton appointed to the Supreme Court an extreme feminist, an arch advocate for the ACLU, and, in my view, a bloodthirsty abortionist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It is not a stretch to assert that the election of Bill Clinton was clearly advanced by the contrived hysteria surrounding the Clarence Thomas hearings. Clinton's famous sales pitch, "vote for me and you get her-two for the price of one", referring to Hillary Rodham-Clinton, was simply echoing the drumbeating on behalf of Clinton and Rodham by the mainstream media press who had dubbed Hillary, "the smartest woman in the world" in the run-up to The Year of the Woman. Polls taken during the course of the hearings of Americans who actually watched the proceedings on television and drew their conclusions from what they saw revealed that Americans believed Clarence Thomas and they did not believe Anita Hill. Polls taken months and years later, after the mainstream media had its relentless way with the public, reflected precisely the opposite sentiment.
After Clinton attained the White House, a coalition of Democrats passed The Violence against Women Act over the opposition of minority Republicans. That pernicious statute federalized domestic violence and distorted our precious presumption of innocence. If there is a saying of the law, "hard cases make bad law", surely there is a corollary, "mass psychosis makes for bad laws." Even the ACLU was led to criticize the excesses of the statute. The Clintons and the Democrats shamelessly exploited the feminist pathology as the national psychosis played out in the Clarence Thomas hearings. They rode it into the White House. But irony had yet a card to play. In addition to the Violence Against Women Act, the Democrats contrived a law which made admissible into evidence alleged incidences of sexual-harassment which a defendant in such a lawsuit might have previously engaged in against a third unrelated party. The theory behind the law: once a cad always a cad; so evidence of bad behavior on one day is proof of bad behavior on another day. Bill Clinton signed this bill into law. With the stroke of his own pen, Bill Clinton ensured that his sexual peccadilloes against Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers, and especially, Monica Lewinsky would become the stuff of Paula Jones' lawsuit.
When the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, I was struck by the dichotomy between the reactions of folks here in Germany and back home in America. Later, I was to be struck by a similar dichotomy in reaction to the invasion of Iraq. The unanimity of opinion in Germany was striking. Germans simply could not believe America had lost its mind over a trivial matter like sex and they certainly could not believe that the world's only superpower would overthrow its government over a few bumps and tickles. Ultimately, the German view would come to prevail in America and the case in impeachment against Bill Clinton would not lie in the Senate. The assault on Clarence Thomas also failed, but no one ever said he got any bumps or tickles in compensation for his ordeal. To the contrary and unto this day he is denied by the left even the decency of an acknowledgment that he has conducted himself utterly free of taint. Justice Thomas' only compensation would be the quiet inner satisfaction that comes from a righteous life, a "Normal Christian Life,"
I did not share the German view then and I do not hold it now. I believe that Bill Clinton committed high crimes and misdemeanors in trying to fix a civil trial (for money and reputation), that he conspired to fix a court case (with Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie), that in furtherance of that conspiracy he suborned perjury (of Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie), conspired to hide evidence, hid evidence (gifts hidden under the bed), and actually committed perjury (too notorious to require recounting). These were all felonies and as such they qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors" under the constitutional standard for impeaching a president. Further, the president is the chief law enforcement officer in the land and by committing a string of felonies he breached his constitutional duty to see to the faithful execution of the laws-which misfeasance constitutes additional impeachable offenses. One need only consider the brouhaha over the alleged misrepresentations to Congress of Attorney General Gonzales, or the ordeal of Scooter Libby, to understand the gravity of the real offenses committed by Clinton.
As the Lewinsky impeachment drama played out and it became apparent that Slick would slither around impeachment, those of us who had a memory span larger than a gnat and so recalled the hysteria of the Clarence Thomas hearings, were utterly dumbfounded. I can recall explaining to my German friends and neighbors that the Monica Lewinsky affair was not just about sex but about the very real and important felonies I have described. One could tell from the expression on their faces that they had never heard this information before yet they received it quite skeptically even begrudgingly. I challenge any reader to lay out Bill Clintons crimes to your apolitical American friends and neighbors. I bet you will get the same reaction today of surprise, indifference, and even hostility from most Americans. Like the vines of Angkor Wat, time has shrouded Clinton's crimes.
It is a sure bet that few of them will remember the Clarence Thomas hearings, their context and aftermath, much less will they be aware of the chain of causation which led from the near high tech lynching of Clarence Thomas to the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton.
The look on Biden’s face when Thomas came out with the “high-tech lynching” line was priceless.
Further proof that for liberals, Race isn’t about skin color, but ones’ politics.
The Dems coined a phrase for it: “the politics of personal destruction” and have been practicing it with ruthless enthusiasm ever since. Dem operatives have managed to derail Gingrich with a clearly illegal phone tap that was never really explained, Hyde with illegal access to personal records, and Palin with a barrage of filth and pure fiction; have managed to smear Gingrich and Bachman (and others) with grotesque magazine cover portraits, have planted accusatory news stories whose victims are never accorded the right of reply in kind. This has become business as usual and the media are absolutely complicit. It’s something to remember when 0bama and his dung beetle patrol in the MSM call for “civility”. It’s for others to practice, not them.
Senator Plugs himself
“Hatch tells National Review Online he knows who leaked the report to the media. It was an extremely liberal staff member for one of the members of the committee who wanted to destroy Thomass chances for getting on to the Court.”
Anyone know who that staffer was?
Seems like they went on to make a name for themselves.
This is an example of what Herman Cain faces. The Left will do far worse. There is no limit to what they will do to stop him.
I think I watched every minute of the Clarence Thomas hearings. It was a horrible attempt to discredit a good man. Thank goodness he made it onto the court anyway.
However, I doubt seriously that similar tactics would be used against Cain.
I could be wrong though.
The very same one who had lied repeatedly to Justice Thomas throughout the hearings. The one to whom Justice Thomas spoke directly to [and Biden had to avert his eyes at his own reprehensible behavior] at the closing of the hearing ....
This is a circus. Its a national disgrace [yea, I mean you Biden]. Its a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks, who in any way deign to think for themselves. And it is a message, that unless you kowtow to the old order, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured
by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.
Dogbert's reply, "Well, ok, maybe one."
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Justice Thomas is a national treasure.
BTTT for Justice Thomas. I admire him greatly.