In the day since Christine Blasey Ford stepped out of anonymity with her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, two other names have also come back into the news: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his former subordinate Anita Hill, who accused him of sexual harassment in testimony at his confirmation hearing in 1991.
The similarities are many — both women reluctantly came forward late in the confirmation process, accusing a powerful man of sexual misconduct in lurid detail. Both men denied the charges. Both women (both, coincidentally, professors) were met with vehement pushback from Republican supporters of the nominees.
But there is another name, cited less often, whose nomination brought accusation and furor, and whose story is just as relevant, but in different ways — Douglas H. Ginsburg, nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1987. Like Kavanaugh, he was accused of breaking the law decades earlier: As a college student during the ’60s and ’70s, he had smoked marijuana.
Past is always a prologue, and, taken together, the outcomes of both the Ginsburg and Thomas nominations tell us a lot about where we stand now. The questions asked and not completely answered back then reflect how we have changed as a society, and how we have not.
The first question in all three cases is “did he do it?” Learning that National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg was about to break the story, Ginsburg quickly admitted that he had smoked pot, then withdrew his name nine days after he was nominated.
Thomas vehemently insisted on his innocence, calling the hearings “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” And Kavanaugh, similarly, has denied the accusations, issuing an early-morning statement: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”
Is that the predictive takeaway? The guy who confesses doesn’t get to be a Supreme Court justice, whereas the ones who assert innocence are confirmed?
Things have changed since the Thomas hearings, starting with the very fact of those hearings. The way the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Hill — grilling her as though she were on trial, refusing to allow the testimony of a second woman with a similar story to tell — resulted in a voter backlash in the 1992 election that tripled the number of women in the Senate and sent a record number of women to the House.
Critics said that the entirely male committee was not trying to find the truth, but rather trying to protect the nominee, a charge that Ford’s lawyer is echoing now. Debra Katz told ABC News that although Ford is “willing to cooperate,” she is not willing “to be part of this bloodletting that happens in Washington. READ MORE