By Jocelyn Samuels, Vice President for Educational and Employment Opportunities
National Women’s Law Center
As you may have read, Justice Clarence Thomas has written his memoirs – an angry, bitter book that, as the press coverage described, ridicules the sexual harassment allegations raised against him by Anita Hill and claims that she was, according to The Washington Post, “the tool of liberal activist groups “obsessed” with abortion and outraged because he did not fit their idea of what an African American should believe.” Putting aside for the moment who is obsessed with whom (or what), Justice Thomas’s statements are simply wrong and offensive – in numerous respects. In an op-ed published on Tuesday in The New York Times, Professor Hill demolished Justice Thomas’s denials of the egregious harassment she endured, as well as responded to his outrageous and vindictive attacks on her character and competence – all in the measured, dignified way that distinguished her testimony 16 years ago this month. Yesterday’s Post also offers an op ed that amasses some of the evidence that has emerged over time to confirm Professor Hill’s original testimony.
I am proud to be with the Center, which was one of the broad range of organizations that opposed the Thomas nomination and is presumably one of the “liberal activist” groups that the Justice so excoriates. The Center opposed Judge Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court, well prior to Professor Hill’s testimony, based on his lack of qualifications and the extremist positions demonstrated by his substantive record, including on civil rights, reproductive rights and affirmative action. Indeed, while most recent Supreme Court nominees have been deemed "well-qualified" by the ABA, the rating for Judge Thomas was split between "qualified" and "not qualified." When Professor Hill made her allegations – and was first ignored and then abused by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – it only heightened the concerns we had previously expressed about Judge Thomas’s fitness to serve on the highest court in the land.
I am sorry to say that our deepest concerns have been fully realized by Justice Thomas’s record on the Court. His memoir claims that his opponents in 1991 were a “mob” whose purpose it was “to keep the black man in his place.” But during his tenure on the Court, Justice Thomas has done more than his share to keep the “black man” – and black women and all those subject to discrimination, for that matter – in disadvantaged “places” by, for example, voting to invalidate any effort by schools or universities to improve diversity among students. Justice Thomas would have kicked Coach Roderick Jackson out of court and denied that he had any right to file a legal challenge when his school fired him as a coach for protesting sex discrimination against his girls’ basketball team. Justice Thomas joined the majority in holding that blacks – and, indeed, anyone of any race or ethnicity subject to discrimination on any basis – cannot challenge pay discrimination that is perpetuated for decades unless they do so immediately after the employer makes its original decision. And Justice Thomas has voted against protections for women’s reproductive rights at every opportunity – and indeed, has stated his belief not only that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, but that there is no constitutional right to privacy at all.
The issue is not Justice Thomas’s race – although one would have hoped that his own experience with affirmative action would have illustrated to him the benefits of giving all students a chance to prove themselves – but his views. Those are even more troubling today than they were 16 years ago – and have served simply to perpetuate the cycles of discrimination, disadvantage and poverty to which minorities and women have been disproportionately subject. The really unfortunate thing is that Justice Thomas will likely be in his “place” – on the Court – for years to come.
Note: Anita Hill is a member of the National Women’s Law Center’s Board of Directors.