Anita Hill Says Kavanaugh Accuser Hearing 'Cannot Be Fair'

Sep 25, 2018
Originally published on September 26, 2018 8:10 am

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET

Twenty-seven years after testifying that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, Anita Hill says she believes the upcoming hearing on an alleged sexual assault by the current nominee "cannot be fair and thorough."

As it stands now, the hearing cannot provide the senators "with enough information to reach a reasonable conclusion," Hill tells NPR.

On Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about an incident that she says happened when she and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were in high school.

She says that during a party, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her down in a bedroom and groped her as a friend of his looked on.

"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," Ford, a research psychologist in California, has said. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."

Kavanaugh has categorically denied these allegations and a second accusation against him. In a Fox News interview that aired Monday night, he said: "I had never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever."

While some details of the hearing remain up in the air, the only people currently set to testify are Kavanaugh and Ford.

Ford's lawyer — and Democratic senators — have called for an FBI investigation into the claims. The attorney has also proposed the committee subpoena Mark Judge, the other person Ford says was in the room during the alleged assault.

So far, those requests have not been granted.

A fair process would start with a "real investigation," Hill tells All Things Considered, saying the absence of other witnesses raises concerns about a he-said-she-said situation.

"It's only that kind of a situation if it's set up as that kind of a situation," Hill says. "In a real hearing and a real investigation, other witnesses would be called, including witnesses who could corroborate, witnesses who could explain the context of the experiences of Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh during that period in their lives, as well as experts on sexual harassment and sexual assault."

Hill, who is now a professor of social policy, law and women's and gender studies at Brandeis University, called for a "neutral body" to investigate the allegations. She says Senate members have already indicated "the presumptions they have about the claims that have been made."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced later Tuesday that a female staff attorney, not senators, would be questioning Kavanaugh and Ford. Fellow Republican and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said it was an effort to "depoliticize the whole process."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer then stated that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee planned to ask their own questions at Thursday's hearing.

Hill says there is going to be an inherent power imbalance in the hearing. "The very least we can do is balance it out through a fair process."

She found herself in a similar position to Ford when, in 1991, she came forward with allegations against Thomas.

Hill had briefly worked with Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — but by the time interest in her story spiked, Hill had already left Washington, D.C., and was working as a law professor at the University of Oklahoma.

According to Hill's congressional testimony, Thomas told her that he was likely to get a political appointment and that if he did, she could come work with him. She followed Thomas to the Education Department, where she worked for one year.

When Thomas moved on to become EEOC chairman, Hill joined him as a special assistant. She held that post from 1982 to '83, when she moved back to Oklahoma.

Hill initially refused to speak about what happened between her and Thomas. She was "torn between what she saw as her duty to provide information to the committee and her desire not to be publicly identified," as NPR's Nina Totenberg has reported.

An FBI inquiry into her claims began in late September 1991; on Oct. 7, Hill said she was willing to testify.

She recalls a hectic journey from Oklahoma to Washington, where she says she had only about a day to confer with her legal counsel before facing senators. "Experiencing that was just as shocking as it sounds," Hill tells NPR.

Discussing her interactions with Thomas, Hill testified that their working relationship had initially been positive. But several months after she took the job at the Department of Education, she said, "He asked me to go out socially with him."

Hill continued in her testimony: "What happened next and telling the world about it are the two most difficult things, experiences of my life. It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration and a number of sleepless nights that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my close friends."

She declined his offer, telling lawmakers that she believed going out with Thomas might jeopardize their professional relationship. She said Thomas pressed her to explain why she said no and tried repeatedly to get her to change her mind.

"My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex," Hill said at the time. She added, "After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid."

The topics ranged from pornography and bestiality to Thomas' "own sexual prowess," she said.

Hill testified that the graphic conversations and pressure tapered off toward the end of Thomas' tenure at the Education Department, prompting her to accept his offer to join her at the EEOC.

In the second half of 1982, she said, Thomas resumed making sexual overtures and pressuring her to go on a date. She began looking for another job and landed one in 1983.

Hill told the committee, "When I informed him that I was leaving in July, I recall that his response was that now, I would no longer have an excuse for not going out with him."

Thomas denied Hill's accusations and called the hearing "a high-tech lynching."

On Oct. 15, 1991, Thomas was confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, by a vote of 52-48.

The personal cost of coming forward was substantial, Hill tells NPR.

"My family was threatened, along with me. My friends were threatened," she says. "Anybody who dared support me were also threatened with loss of life, loss of jobs. You lose privacy."

But, she says, "for me, what it does come down to is that I felt that I had an obligation to come forward."

She says she doesn't regret it.

"Yes, it is true that it's redefined my life in many ways," Hill says, "but in the end, I still have the power to define who I am and what my life stands for."

The allegations by Hill and Ford both concern incidents that they said happened years prior to Thomas' and Kavanaugh's nominations. But Hill argues that for a Supreme Court nominee with a potential life term, incidents long past must be weighed.

"We're talking about an experience that is a reflection — potentially a reflection — on the character and fitness of a nominee," Hill says. "And it has to be taken into account and it has to be taken seriously. And that is fair."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A confirmation battle is underway for the president's handpicked nominee for the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee has called a witness to testify under oath, a witness alleging sexual misconduct on the part of that nominee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANITA HILL: My name is Anita F. Hill, and I am a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma.

KELLY: Different witness, different time, different nominee. Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and testified under oath. Thomas called the proceedings a circus and was later confirmed to the court. Well, we reached out to Anita Hill to get her thoughts on the hearing scheduled to unfold Thursday before the same Senate committee. This time, the Judiciary Committee will be questioning the nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault when they were both in high school.

Anita Hill, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

HILL: Thank you for inviting me on.

KELLY: You have written an op-ed that just ran in The New York Times. The headline was "How To Get The Kavanaugh Hearings Right." And you opened with this sentence. I'll quote you. "There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do it better." Like what?

HILL: To do it better, one, we'd have to have a fair process. And a fair process starts with and becomes framed by a real investigation.

KELLY: I mean, we should note the Senate says that their investigators have looked into all these claims and denials. You're saying there needs to be more. There needs to be - what? - an FBI investigation for this to amount to more than a he-said, she-said forum.

HILL: I'm not quite sure what the qualifications of the Senate for investigating the crimes are. What I do know is that we need a neutral body. It is only that kind of a situation if it's set up as that kind of a situation. In a real hearing and a real investigation, other witnesses would be called, including witnesses who could corroborate, witnesses who could explain the context of the experiences of Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh during that period in their lives as well as experts on sexual harassment and sexual assault.

KELLY: So if I hear you correctly, it sounds as though you are not persuaded that the hearing as it is currently scheduled to unfold on Thursday can provide a fair and thorough accounting of what may or may not have happened 36 years ago.

HILL: It cannot be fair and thorough. They cannot provide not only the senators with enough information to make - reach a reasonable conclusion, but it can't provide the public with the kind of information that it will need to understand the significance of these charges as well as the likelihood that this occurred in the way that Dr. Blasey Ford has described it.

KELLY: Do the alleged offences against Kavanaugh strike you as disqualifying?

HILL: I don't want to speculate. I think it's unfair to speculate.

KELLY: If a theoretical Supreme Court nominee had done what these allegations lay out, a sexual assault at a party in high school three decades ago, should that disqualify that person from serving on today's Supreme Court?

HILL: I think we need the totality of the facts, but I certainly think that this is a serious allegation, that an individual who comes into the court should not have a cloud over himself and over the court because of behavior that he engaged in. I would say personally that if I had to make a decision about a nominee, I would not want a member of the court to have engaged in sexual assault even as a teenager.

And it's not to say that there cannot be a situation where a person has risen above these kinds of behavior or teenage behavior. But it is to say that what we have is a person speaking the privilege of representing the laws of this country. And when that individual is reasonably believed to have broken those laws and then not been truthful about it, to me, that's a disqualification.

KELLY: You have invoked the word fairness repeatedly as we've been talking, and that speaks to a point that came out during your own testimony. I want to play you one exchange. This is of course from 1991. This is Senator Arlen Specter questioning you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARLEN SPECTER: What is your view of the fairness of asking Judge Thomas to reply eight, nine, 10 years after the fact?

HILL: I don't believe it's unfair. I think that that's something that you have to take into account in evaluating his comments.

KELLY: This question of how long has lapsed between the alleged sexual misconduct and raising these allegations now - that was, as we just heard, an issue in your testimony, and it is a question very much in play as this week's proceedings unfold. Is it fair, Anita Hill, to raise allegations from years ago?

HILL: A hearing - a confirmation hearing about the character and fitness of an individual who is going to sit on the country's highest court presumably for the rest of his life - the confirmation process involves going back and looking at the entirety of the nominee's life. Whether it's 10 years or 30 years, we're talking about an experience that is a reflection - potentially a reflection on the character and fitness of the nominee. And it has to be taken into account, and it has to be taken seriously. And that is fair.

KELLY: You're one of the only people on Earth who can answer my next question from firsthand experience. What is the personal cost of choosing to come forward, make a public allegation and testify in this kind of forum?

HILL: Well, we've seen that Dr. Blasey Ford has already been threatened. Her family has been threatened. That's certainly the highest cost when you consider that your children are being threatened. I didn't have children, but my family was threatened along with me. My friends were threatened. Anybody who dared support me were also threatened with loss of life, loss of jobs. You lose privacy.

But in the end, for me, what it has come down to is that I felt that I had an obligation to come forward. I felt that I had relevant information about the character and fitness of the nominee. I had an obligation to the truth, and I had an obligation as a member of the bar to the court.

KELLY: Do you ever regret coming forward? It has come to define your life in ways you could not possibly have imagined in 1991.

HILL: No, I do not regret coming forward. And, yes, it is true that it's redefined my life in many ways. But in the end, I still have the power to define who I am and what my life stands for.

KELLY: Anita Hill, thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

KELLY: Today she is university professor of social policy, law and women's and gender studies at Brandeis University. In 1991, Anita Hill was the star witness in the confirmation battle over now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.