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.
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A conflict of interest?
Questions about Ms. Thomas's political activity have to do with the appearance of conflict of interest close to the federal judiciary. (Although given his voting record, it's hard to see how Justice Thomas could be any more conservative.)
But Justice Thomas might have to recuse himself from decisions that appear to favor his wife’s organization – regarding fundraising, for example. This has happened with other federal judges whose spouses were key figures in political organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
While Liberty Central is not required to report the identity of its donors, Sarah Field, the organization’s chief operating officer and general counsel, said in a written statement to the New York Times that the group has “internal reviews and protections to ensure that no donor causes a conflict of interest for either Ginni or her husband.”
In any case, political spouses – including those whose husbands or wives are judges elected or appointed as part of the political process – have the same rights as anyone else.
“I may not agree with Ginni Thomas on any policy issue, but what she’s doing seems – if I can’t say utterly commendable one could certainly say utterly proper in a democracy,” Cambridge University historian David Garrow told Newsweek.
The call: Why now?
But the call to Hill struck many observers as odd, and it’s hard to see any particular reason for it other than some deep, lingering, personal hurt and the felt need to cleanse this part of her husband's reputation.
Hill’s she-said-he-said accusations of sexual harassment against Justice Thomas were shocking at the time, and they aroused equally harsh accusations against Hill. There were sordid allegations involving mental state, sex, and race. (Both Justice Thomas and Hill are African-American.)
In the most infamous comment at the time, conservative writer David Brock suggested that Hill was "a bit nutty and a bit slutty."
Brock has since disavowed the charges he further wrote about in his 1993 book “The Real Anita Hill,” and he has apologized to Hill.
Following the 1991 confirmation hearings, Hill returned to academia, although she has not been able to exit the limelight entirely – as when Justice Thomas published his autobiography in 2007. Her own autobiography, published in 1998, is titled “Speaking Truth to Power.”
In response to Ms. Thomas’s voice mail, Hill said in a statement: "I have no intention of apologizing because I testified truthfully about my experience, and I stand by that testimony."