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Brett Kavanaugh’s parallels to Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy



anita hill
Anita Hill accused then
Supreme Court-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual


  • Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused
    of sexual misconduct, and it’s not the first time in American
    history this has happened.
  • There are parallels between Christine Blasey Ford‘s
    allegations against Kavanaugh, and lawyer Anita Hill’s 1991
    testimony against then-nominee Clarence Thomas.
  • Here’s what happened in both cases, what Hill says the
    Senate can do better this time around, and how the allegations
    against Kavanaugh could impact American politics for years to

When President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme
Court in July, his confirmation seemed all but certain.

A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, he boasted
experience in the Justice Department and the White House in
addition to 12 years on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Other than a squabble over the release of some documents from his
time in the Bush administration, and multiple interruptions from
protesters, Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings went off without a

That is, until a bombshell sexual assault allegation from the
early 1980s surfaced against him, bringing the confirmation
proceedings to a screeching halt.

While such an event may seem unprecedented, a strikingly similar
scenario unfolded 27 years ago during the confirmation process of
Justice Clarence Thomas. Law professor Anita Hill was called into
testify publicly in 1991 about allegations of sexual harassment
she lodged against Thomas in a private FBI sit-down.

An all-male panel of senators grilling Anita Hill over her
allegations and attacking her credibility was largely perceived
as sexist, and brought the issue of sexual harassment into the
national consciousness, as well as inspired a generation of women
to run for office.

Here’s what happened last time, and how the lasting effects of
Hill’s case could color Kavanaugh’s chances of getting confirmed
to the Supreme Court.

A tale of 2 Judges — and 2 professors

Anita Hill 1991
testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee herself in


The details of both situations have some similarities: both
accusers are university professors who initially made their
accusations of misconduct confidentially or anonymously, but were
driven by a sense of civic duty to risk everything to come
forward against powerful men.

Christine Blasey-Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto
University and Stanford, accused a drunken 17-year old Kavanaugh
of attempting to rape her when she was 15 at a 1982 house party
in suburban Maryland in a letter to her congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
Eshoo then passed it along to Sen.
Dianne Feinstein,
the ranking member of the Judiciary
Committee, in July.

After two months, Feinstein referred the letter to the FBI, the
content of which was then reported on by The Intercept.
Investigative journalists Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer (who,
coincidentally, co-wrote a book in the 1990s about the Anita Hill
hearings), tracked down and wrote a story on Ford for the New
while keeping her identity anonymous.

On Sunday, Ford went public in an interview
with the Washington Post’s Emma Brown
, putting a face and
name to the allegations, and offering more details to back up her

Kavanaugh vehemently denies having assaulted Ford or “anyone
else,” and said he is prepared to testify under oath to that

Hill’s allegations against Thomas in 1991 were somewhat different
in that they concerned a pattern of harassment and inappropriate
behavior as opposed to one isolated alleged assault.

During a private interview with the FBI, Hill accused Thomas of
sexually harassing her and creating a hostile work environment
over a number of years while she worked for him in the Department
of Justice’s Civil Rights division and at the Equal Opportunity
Employment Commission in the early 1980s.

After the interview’s contents were leaked to the press, Sen. Joe
Biden, then the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
re-opened Thomas’ confirmation hearings — and called for Hill to
publicly testify, which she did in October 1991.

“The most moving aspect of Hill’s testimony was the vivid
portrait she painted of the vulnerability, humiliation and
frustration she experienced while working under such conditions,”
TIME Magazine writer Jill
wrote of Hill’s nearly 8 hours of testimony before
the committee.

“She spoke of her fear of being squeezed out of good assignments,
losing her job, maybe even not being able to find any job at all
within the Reagan Administration if she continued to resist
Thomas’ alleged overtures.”

Casting doubt on the women

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 06: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) presides over the third day of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the court left by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Senate Judiciary Chairman
Chuck Grassley has asked Ford and Kavanaugh to testify on

Somodevilla/Getty Images

Even after the #MeToo movement has brought down dozens of
high-profile men and sparked a national reckoning over sexual
misconduct, there are striking similarities between how Ford is
treated now and how Hill was treated 27 years ago.

If Ford testifies, both women will have questioned by an all-male
panel of GOP Senators. While there are now four women on the
Judiciary Committee, they are all Democrats.

In 1991, Republicans on the Committee pressed Hill on the most
sexually explicit details of the alleged harassment, and sought
to undermine her credibility at every turn.

Why, they wondered, did she not report the alleged harassment at
the time? Why did she take another job under Thomas at the EOEC
after being harassed at the Justice Department? They pointed to
Hill once giving Thomas a ride to the airport as evidence that
she was lying about being harassed.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is still on the Judiciary
Committee, even accused Hill of fabricating her testimony and
adapting it from the book “The

It wasn’t only the Republicans who were criticized for how they
handled the hearing. Biden came under fire for not calling
multiple witnesses who had volunteered to testify in support of
Hill’s version of events as part of a deal with Republican

“I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” Biden
Teen Vogue
in 2017. “I owe her an apology.”

Ford provided the Post with notes from a 2012 therapy session in
which she discussed the alleged attack, and the results of a
polygraph indicating she told the truth, (even though polygraph
exams are not usually considered admissible evidence in a court
of law), but that hasn’t shielded her from numerous attacks on
her credibility.

Some Republican senators and commentators have zeroed in on
Ford’s lack of recollection of some of the key details on the
alleged incident, like whose house the assault occurred at,
doubting the year it happened, and her not speaking publicly
about the incident for 35 years, to accuse her of lying about the
entire incident.

“Most women remember virtually everything about the circumstances
of a sexual assault no matter how long ago,” Dennis Prager claimed in the
National Review,
an argument thoroughly debunked by substantive research that
trauma psychologists and other scientists have conducted on
repressed memories and post-traumatic stress.

Similarly to how Hatch and Thomas accused Hill’s testimony of
“contrived … by special interest groups,” and “slick
lawyers,” conservative Erick Erickson claimed Ford
was somehow put up to falsely accuse Kavanaugh of assault by
abortion rights groups concerned about his stance on the issue —
a claim Thomas also lodged against
in his 2007 memoir.

Both women have also been accused of suffering from mental
illness or delusions. Some Thomas supporters accused Hill of suffering from
” a condition that causes people to have wild
romantic or sexual delusions.

Ed Whelan, Kavanaugh’s former
coworker at the Department of Justice, wondered on Twitter if Ford’s
“long course of psychotherapy included recovered-memory therapy,
dubious method known to create false memories.” (He has since
deleted the tweet.) Another conservative commentator called her a “loon.”

When asked by reporters to comment on Ford’s allegations against
Kavanaugh on Monday, Hatch said, “the woman is
probably mixed up.”

What Anita Hill thinks the Senate should do this time around

Brett Kavanaugh
first confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee
began September 4.

Alex Wong/Getty

The Senate Judiciary Committee now has a second chance to
evaluate allegations of sexual misconduct against a Supreme Court
nominee, and Hill laid out a number of
for them in a Tuesday New York Times op-ed.

“That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for
vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during
a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned
little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo
movement,” she wrote.

Hill argued the committee should designate “a neutral
investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases” to
do an independent probe of the alleged incident to produce the
more reliable results and avoid any semblance of partisanship.

She also advised the committee not to rush the hearings on the
matter, arguing their scheduled date of hearing testimony from
Kavanaugh and Ford on Monday is far too soon to adequately
prepare for a hearing on such a serious matter.

Ford and her lawyer agree. In a letter sent to Judiciary Chairman
Chuck Grassley and obtained by CNN on Tuesday night, Ford’s
lawyer requested that a thorough FBI
investigation of the incident take place
before her client
will testify under oath.

Hatch responded by claiming the FBI “does not do
investigations like this”
, and said the judiciary committee
would proceed as planned.

Hill said on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that the committee should “push the
pause button”
on the hearings until the FBI investigates.

“Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name,” Hill wrote
in her op-ed. “Dr. Blasey is not simply ‘Judge Kavanaugh’s
accuser.’ Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She
deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole

A 2nd ‘year of the woman’?

year of the woman female senators 1992 Democratic National Convention
Senator Barbara Mikulski
stands with women senatorial candidates Carol Moseley-Braun,
Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, and others at the 1992 Democratic
National Convention in New York City.

Patterson/Library of Congress

Thomas was eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court by a narrow
52-48 vote.

But the effects of Hill’s testimony not only brought the issue of
workplace sexual harassment into the mainstream, it also had a
lasting impact on the make-up of Congress.

The image of an all-male, all-white panel questioning Hill about
the legitimacy of her experiences with harassment highlighted the
lack of female representation in Congress, inspiring a new
generation of women to take on the male-dominated institution.

The year 1992 was termed the “Year of The Woman” due to
the record-shattering number of women who ran for and won seats
in Congress. Twenty-four women were elected to the House of
Representatives for the first time, and the number of female US
Senators tripled from two to six.

This year, another record of 256 women
have won primaries to advance to the congressional general
elections in November. The sheer number of women running with the
backdrop of the #MeToo movement could drive women — particularly
college-educated suburban women who might not usually vote in
midterm election — to the polls.

“This year certainly has the potential to be another year of the
woman,” Laurel Harbridge-Yong, a political scientist at
Northwestern University, told Business Insider.

“To the extent the concerns around Kavanaugh are adequately
handled or not, this could mobilize white suburban women, a
really key segment of the electorate, to vote for Democratic
congressional candidates.”

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