Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in a 52-48 Senate vote on October 15, 1991, just days after Anita Hill, Thomas’ former co-worker, accused him of repeated sexual harassment in a nationally-televised hearing.
Even though Hill detailed Thomas’ alleged comments to her about “pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes,” “the size of his own penis as being larger than normal,” and “his own sexual prowess,” 41 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted to give Thomas a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Only four Senators who supported Thomas remain in office: Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL, who was a Democrat at the time of Thomas’ confirmation). As Hill offers advice to the Senate Judiciary Committee on how it can handle Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh better than her own accusations of Thomas’ repeated misconduct, Senators who gave a lifetime appointment to an alleged harasser are following familiar patterns in 2018.
The Utah Republican’s response to Hill’s allegations against Thomas was to accuse her “story” of being “too contrived” and stolen from a book in 1991:
“And there’s no question in my mind she was coached by special interest groups,” (Hatch) told the Deseret News in an interview. “Her story’s too contrived. It’s so slick it doesn’t compute.” He said key signs of that include two charges she made for the first time on Friday, which research by Republicans showed may have been borrowed from a Kansas sexual harassment case and the book, “The Exorcist.”
For example, Hill claimed Thomas in a meeting with her once said someone “put a pubic hair” on his Coke can as he picked it up off a desk. Hatch noted that on page 70 in the book, “The Exorcist” — which he held up during hearings on Saturday — a similar episode occurred where a person claimed she found an alien pubic hair in a glass of gin.
Hatch claimed Hill confused Thomas with another man and couldn’t change her story due to pressure from “feminist women” in a 2010 interview with CNN:
“I think she actually believed and talked herself into believing what she said. There was a sexual harasser at that time, according to the sources I had, and he was her supervisor, he just wasn’t Clarence Thomas. I think she transposed that to where she believed it because she was outed by the feminist women at that time and she couldn’t change her mind after — she couldn’t change her tune. And that’s what happened.”
On Monday, Hatch suggested Ford might be “mixed up” about her accusation of sexual assault. Hatch also said Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if allegations that he tried to rape Ford in high school are found to be credible. “If that was true, I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today,” he told reporters. “That’s the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”
In a C-SPAN interview following Thomas’ confirmation in October 1991, the Kentucky Republican praised the Supreme Court justice for how he handled the “unproven allegations” against him and complained about the FBI report containing Hill’s accusations being leaked to the media:
“He was able to go through that in the face of these unproven allegations and emerge a winner. And so, I think it is really an American success story. … I had decided to support Judge Thomas earlier prior to these unproven allegations, and certainly once the FBI report was made public. And I want to take just a minute on that point, if I’m neighbors for anyone else other than a member of Congress or congressional staff, to leak an FBI report would be a crime or a crime for which you could go to jail.”
Nearly 27 years later, the now-Senate Majority Leader was again focused on leaks on Monday, condemning Democrats for leaking Ford’s allegation to the media “at the 11th hour” even though Kavanaugh’s accuser spoke to the Washington Post about the alleged incident. McConnell repeated his baseless claim that Democrats leaked Ford’s accusations to the press in order to “play politics” on Tuesday.
The Iowa Republican accused Hill of committing perjury with her testimony against Thomas and claimed there was an “effort to assassinate the character and integrity of Clarence Thomas” in 1991:
[Grassley] said they were not “corroborating witnesses,” as most had seen them, but “collaborating witnesses, collaborating with the special interest groups that pounced on Anita Hill and her story in their effort to assassinate the character and integrity of Clarence Thomas.”
When the Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim asked why the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t allow more witnesses to testify about Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault of Ford on Tuesday, as was done with Hill’s accusations against Thomas, Grassley said “You’re talking about history. We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward.” Grassley also defended Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual abuse by saying, “I’d hate to have someone ask me what I did 35 years ago,” and announced the FBI will not conduct further investigations of Ford’s accusations against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
[Shelby] said the thing that swayed him most was the telephone logs that showed Professor Hill calling Judge Thomas 10 times after they had stopped working together. “I put a lot of emphasis on those calls,” Mr. Shelby said. “It looks like a continuing relationship over time.”
Mr. Shelby also said, “If you see the polls in Alabama, they are for Judge Thomas.” But, he quickly added, “that’s not why I’m for Judge Thomas.”
The Alabama Republican hasn’t had much to say about the accusations against Kavanaugh, whom he endorsed in July. Shelby said Kavanaugh and Ford should testify before the Senate, noting “You have the man and the woman and then you go from there” on Monday.
This has been updated with additional remarks from Grassley.