Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Anita Hill vs. Virginia Thomas: Is an apology due 19 years later?

Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991. Virginia Thomas, the justice's wife, has now asked Anita Hill to apologize. She's also in the spotlight for her political activism.

By Staff writer / October 20, 2010

In this Nov. 15, 2007, photo, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife, Virginia, as he is introduced at the Federalist Society in Washington, where he spoke about his new book and took questions from the audience. Virginia Thomas is asking Anita Hill to apologize for accusing the justice of sexually harassing her.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Enlarge

One of the most difficult confirmation hearings in US Supreme Court history has returned 19 years later in a story involving race, gender, and today’s highly contentious political scene.

Skip to next paragraph

To most people, Virginia Thomas is not a well-known figure. But as the wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas she has the capacity to make news – whether she wants to or not. And she certainly is making news these days.

Ms. Thomas recently left a voice mail for Anita Hill asking Ms. Hill “to consider an apology … and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

During Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearing in 1991, Hill accused him of sexual harassment when she worked for him at the US Department of Education and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, at first thought the voice mail message was prank. She reported it to the university’s security office, which turned it over to the FBI. Ms. Thomas has acknowledged that the voice mail was from her.

The recent voice mail to Anita Hill is not the only reason for recent interest in “Ginni” Thomas, as she’s known.

Virginia Thomas, tea party activist

Ms. Thomas’s very overt advocacy on behalf of conservative and tea party organizations and causes – including harsh criticism of President Obama and Democratic lawmakers – has prompted questions about whether this is unseemly for the spouse of a US Supreme Court justice. For someone in her unique position, where is the line between free speech and association and the need to avoid the appearance of politics in the federal judiciary?

Many political spouses (and they are usually wives) have causes, and they do engage in overt politicking. This week, Michelle Obama, whose approval ratings are higher than her husband’s, is stumping for Democratic candidates facing rough midterm elections.

Some spouses, like Hillary Clinton, get right into the political machinery (as she did on health care during her husband's administration) even though they have no elected status whatsoever.

But usually, their advocacy is on behalf of noncontroversial, apolitical issues: Lady Bird Johnson on highway beautification, Laura Bush on kids' reading skills, Ms. Obama on military families.

Ms. Thomas, on the other hand, has been the keynote speaker at large tea party events, most recently in Virginia. She’s the founder and head of “Liberty Central,” a nonprofit organization “designed to promote education, civil discourse, and activism focused on protecting core founding principles of the United States,” according to its mission statement.

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story