Alan Zendell, September 19, 2018
In October of 1991, my wife and I were trying to add a new chapter to our annual tradition of finding a beautiful forest to hike in as leaves rained down around us in all the splendor of fall colors. We had rented a mountaintop condo in southwestern Pennsylvania and arrived on Thursday ahead of the Columbus Day weekend. But we awoke on Friday, October 11th to heavy rain, and the forecast said it would continue all day.
Instead of hiking, we built a fire, turned on the TV, and sat mesmerized with our friends for most of the day watching Anita Hill testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The setting was the confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, who has now sat on the Supreme Court for twenty-six years. Ms. Hill, herself a respected lawyer and academic, had accused Mr. Thomas of repeated incidents of sexual harassment.
We all watched in shock as the courageous and very credible Ms. Hill was brutally interrogated by the Committee. One the most offensive of her day-long inquisitors was Senator Orrin Hatch (R, Utah) who accused Hill of being a tool of sleazy lawyers attempting to discredit Justice Thomas for political reasons. Looking back on the proceedings today, I am still dismayed that Committee Chairman, Joe Biden (D, Delaware) seemed powerless to control the verbal assaults on Ms. Hill. Biden has since said he owed Hill an apology, but has never offered one directly.
Writing about the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual misconduct in an incident that occurred when he was seventeen, Hill said, “In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.” That failure, Hill wrote, directly contributed to a culture in which employers were allowed to shield, hide, and protect abusers while victims were further harassed and sometimes even pushed out of their jobs.
Viewed in the light of recent events when so many prominent men in public life have been taken down by revelations about their past sexual misconduct, most notably, the flood of accusations against President Donald Trump, I have to agree with Hill’s conclusion. When a panel of all white, male senators trashed Ms. Hill’s credibility on national television, they basically said women’s complaints needn’t be taken seriously. It was like a universal get-out-of-jail-free card for men who contemplated sexual abuse.
Like Anita Hill, Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is an accomplished professional woman. Note: she is a college professor who teaches at Stanford and Palo Alto Universities, and a respected psychologist, not a porn star or Playboy model. Her attorneys have said she would willingly testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but only after her allegations were thoroughly investigated by the FBI. The example of the Anita Hill hearing which degenerated into a seriously one-sided he-said-she-said battle makes it clear that for any hearing to be fair it must be preceded by impartial and objective fact finding. If we needed any more evidence of that, we need only read what Senator Hatch had to say this time.
As reported in the right-wing tabloid New York Post, Hatch said Professor Ford must be “mixed-up” about the identity of the person who assaulted her. It’s just not possible, in his view, that his good friend Judge Kavanaugh could have done what he’s accused of, or that he could have been so inebriated that he doesn’t remember the incident. If Senator Hatch is no less smug in his approach to fairness and justice than he was in 1991, why would we expect a fair hearing for Professor Ford without the input of the findings of an impartial, professional investigation?
Any reasonable observer would conclude that given the seriousness of making a lifetime appointment of a new Justice to the Supreme Court, there is no credible justification for refusing to take the time to get it right. Why would a responsible body like the Senate Judiciary Committee feel the need to rush to judgment rather than conduct the hearing in a transparent fashion that would let ever American see and understand the process?
The answer is obvious. During the twenty months of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican controlled Senate has shown itself unable to put politics aside and do its constitutionally prescribed job of functioning as an independent branch of government and serving as a check on the excesses of the Executive Branch. Trump believes he needs Kavanaugh to shield him from the findings of Robert Mueller’s investigation. He wants Kavanaugh on the Court when questions about presidential responsibility come before it. It’s just that simple.
The question, as the mid-term elections near, is whether the Senate will demonstrate the integrity voters expect in making a decision that can alter the future course of our government for decades. As of last week, Trump’s approval rating among women had dropped to 29%. They’re all watching.