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Anita Hill spoke with attendees at the John P. Frank Memorial Lecture at the Student Pavilion at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in February of 2018.

Anita Hill spoke with attendees at the John P. Frank Memorial Lecture at the Student Pavilion at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in February of 2018. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

As Demands Grow for Kavanaugh to Withdraw and FBI to Probe Assault Allegations, Anita Hill Offers 'Basic Ground Rules' for Senate Hearing

Failing to implement a formal process to review such allegations shows the Judiciary Committee "has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement."

Jessica Corbett

Nearly three decades after her own brave testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, Anita Hill on Tuesday spoke out about the allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh and urged lawmakers not to repeat the mistakes that were made back then.

Hill, in a New York Times op-ed, joined Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups calling for "a thorough and transparent investigation" into Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's claim that Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers. Hill suggested the probe should be "guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence."

When Hill famously testified that Thomas—now a justice on the high court—sexually harassed her, "the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court," she wrote. "It failed on both counts."

That the committee "still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing," she concluded, "much less the more recent #MeToo movement."

Although Hill said it is "discouraging" that committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has scheduled a hearing for Monday—because "a week's preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges"—she still offered some "basic ground rules" for the senators to follow:

  • Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing;
  • Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee;
  • Do not rush these hearings; and
  • Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name.

Hill's guidance comes amid mounting calls for Kavanaugh, who has denied Ford's allegations, to withdraw from consideration. As of Monday afternoon, more than 800 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault had signed an open letter circulated by the women's advocacy group UltraViolet urging senators to publicly oppose President Donald Trump's nominee.

"We will not sit by and let Republicans use this hearing to attack, undermine and shame Ford," declared UltraViolet executive director Shaunna Thomas. "The Senate must recognize that investigations and public hearings are systemically stacked against survivors of sexual assault—in this case, shifting the burden from Kavanaugh, who has already lied to the Senate, to Ford, who has no reason to lie."

However, as Kavanaugh—who already was deeply unpopular before Ford's allegations were made public—hasn't given any indication that he will stop seeking a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, other advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers are calling for a delay of any confirmation vote until the FBI can fully investigate Ford's claims.

Meanwhile, key members the Trump administration, including the president himself, continue to defend Kavanaugh. The Justice Department, for its part, argued in a statement late Monday that it is the FBI's responsibility to evaluate any threat Kavanaugh may pose to national security, but that Ford's claim "does not involve any potential federal crime" for the FBI to investigate.

In an interview with CBS on Tuesday morning, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is on the committee, said she believes Ford is telling the truth, and emphasized that "the American public deserves to know the character of someone who will serve for his entire life on the highest court in our country."

Harris asserted that agents in the FBI "are really well equipped to do this kind of investigation, but they're not being given the authority to do it" by the Justice Department or the Trump White House.

While Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, has been criticized for how she's handled the allegations, she also expressed disappointment in Republicans and the Trump administration for "failing to take even the most basic steps to investigate this matter."

Calling for the FBI "to reopen and complete the background investigation," Feinstein drew comparisons to the hearings that were held after Hill's allegations against Thomas surfaced in 1991. "Now, just one week after Christine Blasey Ford shared her story, Republicans want to repeat past mistakes," Feinstein charged, "rushing the process to hold a hearing."

In a blog post on Monday, Lenora M. Lapidus, director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, echoed Hill's argument by encouraging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to make sure they "get it right this time around" by not repeating the mistakes of the past.

"Dr. Ford may have been forced into the limelight against her will, just as Anita Hill was, but the treatment she receives should be different," wrote Lapidus. "She must be questioned fairly, not belittled or dismissed."

Ultimately, she concluded, "a fair process in which both sides are fully heard is in everyone's interest—including, most importantly, the country's, given the stakes."

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