ONE MONTH ago in this space we said we thought Judge Clarence Thomas should be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Our endorsement was not born of enthusiasm but rather of conviction that "on the strength of what we know of his record and the testimony given so far . . . Clarence Thomas is qualified to sit on the court." That was Sept. 15. Today is Oct. 15, but it seems more as if a century had passed than a month. As seems to be true of practically everyone else, we are not satisfied that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings over the past weekend disposed of the question they were reconvened to resolve: namely, whether Judge Thomas or Prof. Anita Hill, the woman who has accused him of sexual harassment, is telling the truth. She could not conclusively establish the validity of her charges; he could not conclusively disprove them. And there we are. The Senate is scheduled to vote today.
For us there are really only two options. One is to argue for rejection of Judge Thomas on the ground that even though the charges against him were not proven, there remains a cloud of doubt that has not been and perhaps can never be dispelled. There is some merit to this position: it protects against the worst outcome (Judge Thomas's being found at a later date to have lied about these things). And it will in retrospect be at least understandable and eminently forgivable if the outcome goes the other way. That is, if it should turn out that Prof. Hill was the guilty party and Judge Thomas the victim, well, unfair as it was, people will feel that protecting against the risk to the court was worth the unfairness to him.
We cannot accept this argument. It goes against a tradition which holds that the unproven word of a single accuser is not enough to establish guilt.
The accusation Prof. Hill made is a grave one and would clearly disqualify Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court if it were proven. We are aware that proof in cases of this kind is very hard to come by, especially after so long a time has elapsed. But to say that proof is hard to attain is not to say that it is unnecessary. After three days of extraordinary testimony and procedure, it seemed to us that the weaknesses in the account Prof. Hill set out were not dispelled and sufficient additional support for her position did not materialize. Four witnesses said Prof. Hill had told them years ago that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her in the sense of pursuing her against her will. None said she had told them of his alleged obscenities. None seemed to know Judge Thomas or to have ever been privy to their work-place or social relationship. Those witnesses who appeared before the committee and who had been part of Prof. Hill's and Judge Thomas's working life all testified on the other side. The lone voice accusing Judge Thomas in that hearing room remained Anita Hill's. Her accusations, in our view, did not have to be overwhelmingly demonstrated in order to be convincing. But even under this fairly loose standard by which we ourselves were judging the proceedings, they came up short.
So, if the vote is held today, after all, we can only reaffirm our position that Judge Thomas should be confirmed. We say this with the same unhappy sense that others all over the country apparently share that, at this point, no one can be 100 percent certain of which of them is telling the truth. But in these circumstances history gives us too many reasons not to act on the unproven word of a single accuser.