Yes, there are distinct parallels between the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and those of Brett Kavanaugh. Now comes the parallel that no one anticipated. Just as Clarence Thomas’ hearings were upended by Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual misconduct, so may Brett Kavanaugh’s.
Here is the story in Kavaugh’s case: “ . . . a woman wrote a letter in July to her Congress member, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), alleging that when she and Kavanaugh were in high school in the early 1980s, he attempted to sexually assault her at a party. Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated in 1983, while the woman went to a neighboring school.
At the party, the woman said Kavanaugh held her down and covered her mouth with his hand, and that he and a classmate turned up the music in the room to drown out her voice. The woman said the experience caused her ongoing pain and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” Kavanaugh said in a statement to the New Yorker. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
In Thomas’ case, here was the story: “In 1991, after Thomas was nominated, Hill told friends that he had harassed her when she worked for him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, . . . . Specifically, Hill said that Thomas had repeatedly subjected her to unwanted sexual comments, telling her about porn he watched and his sexual behavior, and making a joke about a pubic hair on a Coke can.”
There are clear differences. Clarence Thomas was Anita Hill’s boss. Her accusations were about unwanted sexual comments. Brett Kavanaugh was only a teenager, but he worked with a friend and engaged in physical sexual violence.
The real question is whether this incident demonstrates an antipathy by Kavanaugh towards women’s rights or a willingness to partake in illegal acts.
When Anita Hill testified, Joe Biden, the head of the Senate committee, did not permit the calling of supporting witnesses. But in the Brett Kavanaugh situation, there may be written evidence supporting the accuser’s story. This is because she sought psychological treatment, which means that a psychologist or psychiatrist must have taken notes.
Although the accusation against Kavanaugh cannot be lightly dismissed, the bad actions of a teenage boy should not automatically result in a vote against Kavanaugh, even if the acts constituted a crime. The real question is whether this incident demonstrates an antipathy by Kavanaugh towards women’s rights or a willingness to partake in illegal acts.
For example, if Kavanaugh had a life-long record of actively supporting women’s actions – if he had written scholarly articles in support of Roe v. Wade – one could readily believe that his actions as a teenager did not reflect his attitude towards the law. Those actions could be dismissed as ones of a young man at a party.
However, in the present case Kavanaugh in his testimony has been careful not to take a position favoring women’s rights. Moreover, there has been no evidence to support a claim that women’s rights are important to him. Therefore, his sexual abuse as a teenager can be fairly read as reflecting his attitude in this important area of the law.
Given the above, one can only hope that the accuser sees fit to come forward publicly and make her written accusation part of the record. Personally, I hope that there really are written records showing that she had psychological treatment as a result of what Kavanaugh did. This would make her accusations impossible to dismiss.
I also hope that we have learned from the Clarence Thomas affair that evidence of bad acts can be important. Clarence Thomas was appointed as a Supreme Court justice despite Anita Hill’s accusations. And over thirty years he has proven himself, again and again, to be one of the worst appointees in the history of the Supreme Court. Let us not make the same mistake again.
Michael T. Hertz