Anita Hill — who testified at the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after accusing him of sexual harassment — spoke out about the upcoming hearing over the sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better,” Hill wrote in a New York Times column on Tuesday.
Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her nearly four decades ago at a high school party. Both are now slated to testify at a public hearing on Monday — a situation that has elicited comparisons to Hill’s testimony, where she faced intense scrutiny and changed the national conversation about sexual harassment. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, calling it “completely false.”
“Today, the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades,” Hill wrote in the Times. “That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.”
Hill noted some of the members that were on the Senate Judiciary Committee when she testified in 1991 are still on the committee including Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. She urged the Senate Judiciary Committee not to pit the need for a fair confirmation hearing against the need to confront sexual harassment, calling for a “neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases” to investigate Ford’s accusation. She also said Senators should rely on those investigative conclusions and expert advice when framing their questions. “The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault,” Hill wrote.
She urged Senators not to rush the hearings, warning that a Monday deadline does not allow “enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges.”
“In 1991, the phrase ‘they just don’t get it’ became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence,” Hill wrote. “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. In 2018, our senators must get it right.”