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Anita Hill reminds a nation of a Supreme Court embarrassment

Jonathan P Hicks | 3/14/2014, 1:13 p.m.
Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment shortly after President George H.W. Bush nominated him as ...
Jonathan P. Hicks

“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” Anita Hill said in an interview published recently in The New York Times about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment shortly after President George H.W. Bush nominated him as the nation’s second African-American to sit on the nation’s high court 23 years ago.

She is certainly not alone in that view.

The pronouncement by Hill, a decidedly private woman who is now a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, was one of her first public utterances on a matter that rocked the nation nearly a quarter century ago. Yet those allegations were discounted and Thomas was confirmed.

The years since then have not done much to burnish Thomas’ image as a legal intellectual giant. In fact, his tenure on the nation’s high court has so far been an embarrassment not only to himself, but also to the president who misguidedly appointed him. It was as though, in the aftermath of the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, a giant of law and civil rights, Bush seemed to think that any Black face would do.

So far, Thomas has distinguished himself as the member of the Supreme Court least likely to utter a word during legal arguments before that judicial body. Beyond that, he has become well known as one of the nation’s foremost beneficiaries of affirmative action who will do anything in his power to tear down that ladder of opportunity for others.

Most recently, Thomas took an unfortunate break from his habit of refraining from public speaking to assert that racism in the South was nothing compared with the level of bias in the North.

“The worst I have been treated was by Northern liberal elites,” Thomas said. “The absolute worst I have ever been treated.”

In his most recent musings, Thomas sounds a good deal like “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who recently said that African-Americans in the days of segregation seemed happy as they could be and offered not a peep of discontent regarding their second-class status.

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race- and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school,” Thomas said. “To my knowledge, I was the first Black kid in Savannah, Ga., to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up.”

He added that, in today’s world, “everybody is sensitive” about sex and race, or if “somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something.”

Once again, Thomas has shown himself to be out of touch with the reality of history and culture. Still, there is something so cynical about this man, with more than a touch of self-contempt. Can there be any wonder that he has become the object of affection—though not necessarily respect—by the nation’s right-wing zealotry? He is viewed by them as something of a mascot for far right ideology, though hardly as one of its intellectual forces.

And so, Hill’s recent remarks remind us that the Thomas tenure on the Supreme Court is a sad episode of American history that didn’t have to be. The world has changed much since those confirmation hearings that made Hill a prominent figure in contemporary history. In the world of 2014, it’s quite unthinkable that a woman’s allegations of sexual harassment against a potential Supreme Court justice would be essentially disregarded as they were in the case of Thomas. How much better the nation would have been had it been Hill nominated rather than Thomas.

“I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with,” she said. “And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

Truer words have rarely been spoken.