This appearance of irresolvable conflict was neither wholly accurate nor accidental. Four friends of Hill’s testified that she had told them about the harassment at the time, lending more credibility to the claims. Three other women were willing to testify about being harassed by Thomas, too. But Biden chose not to allow one of them, Angela Wright, to testify publicly, instead releasing a transcript of a phone interview with her. Strange Justice, a 1994 book by reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, concluded the Judiciary Committee had failed to follow up leads on allegations against Thomas and had conducted only a cursory investigation. Whether such testimony would have been adequate to convict Thomas in a court of law is unclear, but perhaps also beside the point. It was as strong or stronger than the evidence that has toppled several members of Congress, including Senator Al Franken.

When apprised of Hill’s accusations, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, the Ohio Democrat, said, “If that’s sexual harassment, half the senators on Capitol Hill could be accused.” With 26 years of perspective, new data on congressional settlements, and testimony from women in politics, it seems Metzenbaum was right, though not for the reasons he believed.