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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Anita Hill Reaction Reminiscent of History

October 25, 2010

Many remember the scene 19 years ago as the nation stood riveted in front of the television set as a little known Washington political appointee named Anita Hill tried her best to derail the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

For many, it was also emotionally agonizing to watch Mrs. Thomas (Ginni) sit stoically behind her husband in the Senate hearing room as he defended himself against Hill’s charges of sexual harassment. The country saw her wipe away the tears as she listened to the questions being posed to her husband from members of the Judiciary Committee.

At the time, Thomas was a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, an appointment he received after serving as Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EOEC)

Ms. Hill worked for Thomas from 1981-83 at both the Department of Education (as his attorney-advisor), and then moved on with him to serve as his special assistant at the EOEC.

By all accounts, she was his protégé, and Thomas had brought her along politically. He taught her the ways of Washington, as an upcoming insider, giving advice and counsel that most political appointees can only dream of receiving from their boss.

The position of “special assistant” is a coveted political appointment that one receives for being a trusted and loyal partisan, to the superior who makes the appointment (in Hill’s case Thomas), and to the political party controlling the White House, at that time, it was Republicans.

This isn’t meant to rehash the confirmation hearings of Justice Thomas, but it’s a good reminder to note that Ms. Hill choose to follow Thomas from agency to agency, and rode the success of his career, and accepted the political benefits along the way.

We were reminded of the whole sordid affair last week when we heard that Ms. Hill had received a telephone message from Mrs. Thomas on her voice answering machine. She asked Ms. Hill to consider offering an apology, after all these years, for the statements she made to the Judiciary Committee that alleged sexual harassment.

We don’t know why Mrs. Thomas made telephone contact with Ms. Hill at this point in time, but she did have every right to do so. Obviously, there are some deep emotional wounds that remain over the allegations, and perhaps she thought the passage of time might make Ms. Hill rethink some of the things she had said some 19 years ago.

During the Thomas confirmation hearings, many of Ms. Hill’s detractors painted her an ultra sensitive individual who was unable to separate fact from fiction. It was on this basis that Senate Judiciary Committee member Arlen Specter, himself a former  prosecutor, made the famous statement, alleging Ms. Hill’s testimony to be, “perjury, flat out”.

Ms. Hill’s reaction to the telephone message she received from Mrs. Thomas was also strangely ultra sensitive. The message was calm and rational, and asked a simple question, would she apologize to the nation for what she said about Thomas during the confirmation hearings.

It went like this: “Good morning, Anita Hill. It’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. Give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.”

Instead of responding, or keeping the matter private, Ms. Hill turned the message over to local law enforcement authorities, and asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate the phone call on the grounds that it might represent a threat, or constituent a federal crime.

Of course, the FBI flatly refused to investigate, as the agency saw no such crime, or threat, in the telephone message. Ms. Hill is now a college professor, and has no national security status, thus the FBI couldn’t pursue the incident on those grounds either.

Ms. Hill’s over reactive response is telling though. She saw a threat in the message that clearly did not exist, and felt a sense of self-importance, or entitlement, that her status should warrant the time and attention of the FBI.

While I agree the timing of the phone call is mystifying, Ms. Hill’s response is reminiscent of the person many saw testify against Justice Thomas 19 years ago – a person who magnifies circumstances far beyond what they are in reality.