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 Anita Hill

In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about allegations that then-nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. (Photo: Washington Post/screenshot)

The 'Opposite' of Leadership: Anita Hill Says Joe Biden Apology Not Good Enough

Hill, who famously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, said the former vice president and then-committee chair should have shown leadership but "did just the opposite"

Jessica Corbett

In a lengthy Washington Post interview with Anita Hill and five female Democratic lawmakers who supported her during the historic confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, Hill criticized former Vice President Joe Biden's recent apology regarding how he and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee handled her allegations that Thomas sexually harassed her.

In her remarks, published late Wednesday, Hill said Biden's new mea culpas don't really take "ownership of his role in what happened." He and other lawmakers should have shown "leadership" at the time, she added, "And they did just the opposite."

Hill, who is now a professor of legal history and public policy at Brandeis University, testified in 1991—in front of a Judiciary Committee comprised of only white men—that Thomas sexually harassed her when he worked as her supervisor at both the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Biden—who has long been criticized by Hill and several others for how he handled the situation as then-chairman of the Judiciary Committee—declined to call three women who had been subpoenaed to provide testimonies about similar behavior by Thomas that they had experienced or witnessed.

At Glamour magazine's Women of the Year event last week, Biden was asked how he might have handled the situation differently, and what he wants to say to Hill about it now. He said, in part: 

Anita Hill was victimized, there is no question in my mind, and every single solitary person on that committee who believed her voted no.... What I do feel badly about was the bad taste that got left in the mouth of some of the people around Anita Hill, and maybe even Anita, about whether or not the witnesses should have been called who weren’t called etcetera. Maybe I could have handled that better, but I believed her from the beginning, I made her case from the floor, I made her case to the committee.... 

I am so sorry if she believed that [the process was unfair]. I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through. Think of the courage it took for her to come forward.... I feel really badly that she didn't feel like the process worked, but I tell you what, I said something at the time that proved to be right. I said this is going to be the start of a fundamental change of what constitutes harassment in the workplace and people are going to begin to change.

"He said, 'I am sorry if she felt she didn't get a fair hearing.' That's sort of an 'I'm sorry if you were offended,'" Hill told the Post. She said that while "some part of it" was an admission that he could have done better, ultimately she wants to hear Biden fully take "responsibility" for his role in how it played out—Thomas was ultimately confirmed 52-48, and remains on the court today.

Hill continued:

I still don't think it takes ownership of his role in what happened. And he also doesn't understand that it wasn't just that I felt it was not fair. It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women's equality. And they did just the opposite....

You cannot just bring people forward into a process where you know they're not going to be treated fairly. That's not being heard. That's something that we are struggling with right now. Women are coming in to make a complaint, and the process is unfair and employers are saying, "Well, we have a process." Well, that's not enough.

Hill and the five Democratic lawmakers interviewed by the Post—Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Pat Schroeder (Colo.), and Louise M. Slaughter (N.Y.)—spoke about the media coverage of Thomas' confirmation process, the wave of women elected in 1994 (often seen as a direct response to how Hill was treated by lawmakers during the hearing), and the national conversation that is taking place right now, in the wake of allegations levied against several high-profile public figures and as survivors of sexual harassment and assault use the hashtag #MeToo to share their stories on social media.

Watch:

Read the full interview with the Post here.


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