It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, but after reading this op-ed from Jay Kaganoff in the Washington Post, I’m guessing we’ll be seeing more of it. After the cacophony of calls for Hollywood moguls and media figures to lose their jobs and elected officials to resign or be removed following allegations of sexual assault and harassment, it was inevitable that Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ name would eventually come up.
Kaganoff titles his piece, Fellow conservatives, it’s time to call on Clarence Thomas to resign. The author makes at least a partially convincing case, depending on where you personally set the bar for convictions in the Court of Public Opinion. If allegations which can’t or won’t be tested before a jury are enough to remove senators, congressmen and movie studio chiefs, why not a Supreme Court justice? Kaganoff reviews the evidence from Thomas’ confirmation hearings and believes that Anita Hill’s claims pass the smell test.
It’s always a question of balance between believing the victims and avoiding mob mentality. But there are a few factors that tilt toward Hill’s version of the story.
It wasn’t exactly his word against hers; she had witnesses whom the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, did not call up. And Biden is a Democrat, so there goes the “they only attacked him because he’s conservative” narrative. He was confirmed by a Senate under Democratic control.
In an interview on CNN, conservative journalist Bethany Mandel talks about how coming forward affects women. “This will be the only thing these women are ever known for. That’s not something someone wants to sign up for.” Hill is a law-school professor with a respected career in her own right, but she has to carry this around with her — without even the satisfaction of having her harasser punished.
I would suggest we apply the same test to Thomas as we have to others in the spotlight such as Franken, Conyers and Moore. As to credibility, were there multiple victims making such reports? In this case it seems not. Did the accuser make the accusation or at least tell other witnesses at the time? Well, perhaps not at the time it happened, but contemporaneous witnesses were heard from. Did the accused own up to the deed and apologize? Not in this case, but neither have some others who are being called on to step aside.
There’s also the severity of the actions being alleged, keeping in mind that there is still a definite line between harassment and assault. Anita Hill told of some extremely brutish language which, if true, would certainly amount to harassment in 2017. But forcible, unwanted contact such as groping a sleeping woman’s breasts didn’t really come up so I suppose we’re on the harassment side of the fence here as opposed to assault.
I don’t know. I’m having a hard time mustering the same level of “They Must Go Now” reaction when considering the stories of Justice Thomas and Anita Hill, but if we believe her accusations they can’t simply be excused, either. The problem here is that Thomas has rejected all of these accusations all along. There’s no reason to think he would suddenly admit to the alleged deeds and sheepishly resign. At that point, you have no option to remove him from the bench short of impeachment. Would alleged but unproven harassment rise to the required level of offense for the House to bring the charges and the Senate convict him?
Color me skeptical on both counts, even if the Democrats held the majority in both chambers. And I’m not saying this out of convenience because he’s one of the conservative justices on the bench. Were he removed right now, President Trump would replace him with a new name off of his famous list and you’d have a new, probably younger conservative judge on the bench. This is a question of whether or not both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill are being treated as fairly and impartially as is possible under the circumstances. And unlike Mr. Kaganoff, I don’t see such a clear answer on this one.