Clarence Thomas, the ur-groper

The news below about an (alleged) groping incident involving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas brought back some bitter memories.

The lawyer, Moira Smith, who was a 23-year-old Truman Foundation scholar at the time, said the justice [Clarence Thomas] had squeezed her buttocks. Source: Lawyer Accuses Justice Thomas of Groping Her at Party in 1999 – The New York Times

I’m sure a lot of people–especially women–remember the Senate hearings after George Bush cynically nominated Clarence Thomas to fill the court seat left empty when Thurgood Marshall retired.

Long before Donald Trump blustered into our lives, reminding women of the many incidents of sexual harassment we have all endured–primarily but not exclusively during our working lives–there was Anita Hill, whose testimony described creepy and ugly things Thomas did and said to her when she was working for him.

I wanted to link a Times story about those hearings here but after searching the Times archives, I’m annoyed to see that even stories sympathetic to Anita Hill (written by men, I must note) weakly qualify their conclusions: “Well, she was a good witness but Thomas was a fervent witness on his own behalf and who knows what really happened, it’s he-said-she-said…”

No. It wasn’t. It was: she said, he lied, she was right and we believed her. Her testimony made it abundantly clear that Clarence Thomas was a creep, a sexual bully (he was her immediate boss), and that Anita Hill was a woman who’d dealt with his come-ons and with the harsh questioning from senators–including Joe Biden–with dignity and remarkable cool. She was heroic.

Just before the Senate was to vote on Thomas’s confirmation, I was urged by John Lewis, a guy I worked for–a civil rights lawyer–to send telegrams to all the senators asking that they not vote to confirm Thomas. John said he’d pay for the telegrams. (There was no email in those days, remember; it was either 100 phone calls or telegrams. I’ve always been better at controlling and condensing my opinions in writing, rather than verbally.)

I did it. So did a lot of people. The Senate confirmed him anyway, in a very tight vote. Clarence Thomas has been a malignant presence on the Supreme Court ever since.

Maybe the current atmosphere in which women have–and continue to–come forward with their ugly stories about Trump was born in 1991, when Anita Hill was badly treated by men for doing precisely what she had to do, as an American citizen and, in her case, a lawyer who understood the power and impunity of the Supreme Court.

During that period, a friend of mine brought up our own sexual harassment by one of our bosses, harassment which we did nothing about, because there was nothing to do.

She referred to Anita Hill and Thomas, in a backhand sort of support for Thomas’s nomination: “Well it happened to us! We could say the same things about [our harasser].”

“Yes,” I said, “we could–and if he were nominated to the Supreme Court I’d call the FBI immediately and turn him in.”

Any of us who has been harassed must always assume that whoever did it to us, did it to others, too. So I’m not surprised about this new allegation involving Thomas. I’m mildly surprised that it’s come out. (I suppose we have Donald Trump to thank for this.)

As soon as I read the news, I tweeted something about “What’s the mechanism for investigating him?” I didn’t ask whether, if an investigation found Thomas to be guilty of this sort of misconduct, he could be removed from the bench.

Today, in utter disgust, I saw this abstract from the National Law Journal (reported by two women):

 Clarence Thomas Groping Allegations Land in Oversight Vacuum

Zoe Tillman and Marcia Coyle, The National Law Journal   

A formal review process for misconduct claims against members of the federal judiciary doesn’t apply to U.S. Supreme Court justices.

SUPPLEMENT 10/29/16. ThinkProgress reported more stories of Thomas’s bad behavior with women. As I said above, if a guy does this to you, you can be sure he’s done and doing it to other women.

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