How can a repeat sexual offender be qualified to dispense justice?
Until a private interview given by Anita Hill to the FBI was leaked to the press, revealing a much more sinister side to Thomas' supposed good character.
Hill testified that in the time she worked for Thomas, she was repeatedly sexually harassed.
It began when he asked her our and she refused. "I believed then, as now, 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." According to Hill, Thomas did not take no for an answer, demanding further justification from her and continuing to ask her out. And he didn't stop there either.
"My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex. On these occasions, he would call me into his office for reports on education issues and projects or he might suggest that because of the time pressures of his schedule, we go to lunch to a government cafeteria. After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid."
He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes.
"He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises, or large breasts involved in various sex acts. On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him at all, and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about these subjects. I would also try to change the subject to education matters or to nonsexual personal matters, such as his background or his beliefs. My efforts to change the subject were rarely successful."
Her continued employment was in his hands, and he used that power to sexually harass her.
The harassment stopped- for a little while.
"He began to show displeasure in his tone and voice and his demeanor in his continued pressure for an explanation. He commented on what I was wearing in terms of whether it made me more or less sexually attractive."
Clarence Thomas knew what he was doing was inappropriate.
Clarence Thomas was confirmed anyway.
On October 15th, 1991, Thomas was confirmed by a 52–48 vote (the narrowest margin yet). However, Hill's testimony is considered one of the key events that brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment into public discussion. So while it is more than a little unsettling that a sitting Supreme Court Justice was incapable of living justly by telling the truth (or by not exerting this kind of power over his employee in the first place), it is at least comforting to know that Hill's bravery was not for nothing.
HBO is airing a dramatization of the events Saturday at 8pm.
I know I'll be watching. Hill's commitment to the truth, at huge personal cost, is something that still deserves to be recognized. This isn't in the faraway past, this happened within my lifetime. And it serves as an ungentle reminder that while we've come a long way, we still have very far to go.