Some of us recall the spectacle of the 1991 Clarence Thomas Senate Confirmation Hearings. Although the Thomas hearings may not have reached quite the level of virulence as the Kavanaugh hearings, they certainly came close.
Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in July 1991 by President George H. W. Bush. Due to his conservative political leanings, the battle lines were drawn immediately.
Similar to the way the Democrats surprised Republicans last summer by trotting out Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her 36 years ago, the Democrats sprung law professor Anita Hill upon Thomas late in the confirmation process.
Hill had worked for Thomas at the Department of Education and followed him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Allegations that Thomas had made unwelcome sexual comments to Hill were leaked from an FBI file to the media.
Joe Biden was the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and presided over the hearings. Although he opposed Thomas’ nomination, to his credit, he did not do all that he could have to help Hill.
The most notable instance is described below.
As the hearings progressed, contradictions between Hill’s testimony and other witnesses became clear. Prior to the hearings, Senate staffers had told Hill she would never be called on to testify. They assured her that, when confronted with the allegations, Thomas would withdraw his name from consideration.
This story had been leaked to USA Today. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) read from the article and questioned Hill about it. The newspaper reported:
Anita Hill was told by Senate staffers her signed affidavit alleging sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas would be the instrument that ‘quietly and behind the scenes’ would force him to withdraw his name…
Keith Henderson, a 10-year friend of Hill and former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, says Hill was advised by Senate staffers that her charge would be kept secret and her name kept from public scrutiny…
They would approach Judge Thomas with the information and he would withdraw and not turn this into a big story, Henderson says.
Specter asked her nine times if this story was true and “nine times she denied the claim, demurred, or otherwise attempted to get away from the question.” Frustrated, Biden called for an early recess.
In the following passage from his book, Specter reveals a later discussion with Biden.
After this exchange Biden recessed the committee. Biden told me in November 1998, ‘It was clear to me from the way she was answering the questions, she was lying.’
‘At that point I truncated the hearing and recessed it early for lunch,’ Biden said. ‘I turned to my chief of staff and said, ‘Go down and tell her lawyers that if her recollection is not refreshed by the time she gets back, I will be compelled to pursue the same line of questioning the Senator [Specter] did. Because it seems to me, she did what he said.’
Biden, as the committee’s chairman and top Democrat, would have carried great sway if he had suggested publicly that Hill was lying when she repeatedly answered questions about Thomas’s potential withdrawal by saying she didn’t remember.
After the recess, Hill admitted the story was true and, combined with previous contradictions, it damaged her already diminished credibility.
Yet, when asked about Hill’s testimony last Friday during his appearance on “The View,” Biden told Joy Behar, “Not only didn’t I vote for Clarence Thomas, I believed her from the beginning. I was against Clarence Thomas, I did everything in my power to defeat Clarence Thomas and he won by the smallest margin anyone ever won going on the Supreme Court.”
Clearly, Biden did not believe Anita Hill’s testimony, nor did he do everything in his power to defeat Thomas.
And, unfortunately for him, this issue will likely come back to bite him.