In an essay published by the New York Times, Anita Hill included an interesting aside.
Hill, whose allegations that she had been sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas emerged during the process after his nomination to the Supreme Court, was comparing her situation in 1991 to the current moment. Brett M. Kavanaugh, nominated to the bench by President Trump, has been accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford in 1982 while in high school.
“As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings,” Hill wrote, “the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance."
That “on which sit some of the same members” phrase is fascinating to consider. It has been nearly 30 years since Hill faced a battery of questions about her allegations, yet some of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee remain the same.
To wit: Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). All three have not only been in Congress long enough to have participated in the hearings held after the revelation of Hill’s allegations, but they were all already in Congress during the 1982 incident in which Kavanaugh is alleged to have attacked Ford.
The committee vote on Thomas’s nomination consisted of two parts, both taken before Hill’s allegations surfaced. The first vote was whether to forward his nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation of support. That vote was a tie. The second vote was to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. That passed.
Grassley and Hatch supported both votes. Leahy supported only the latter.
During the hearings, chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), great attention was paid to the detail of Thomas’s actions. Ultimately, though, his nomination was confirmed by the Senate, and he took his seat on the Supreme Court.
Of the votes cast on Thomas’s nomination, five were by sitting members of the Senate. Those include Leahy (who voted against confirmation), Grassley and Hatch (both of whom supported it). They were joined by Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala., although he was then a Democrat) and now-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Both of them supported Thomas’s nomination.
In other words, of the three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who sat on that body for the Hill hearings, two supported Thomas’s nomination.
Of the five current senators who voted on that nomination before the full Senate, four supported Thomas.
Hill’s essay in the Times offers recommendations for how the Senate can better handle the accusations against Kavanaugh than they did the hearings in which she was involved. She writes from her own perspective but also recognizing the cultural shifts that have occurred since 1991.
“With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, ‘not getting it’ isn’t an option for our elected representatives,” she writes. “In 2018, our senators must get it right.”
Particularly those who went through this 27 years ago.