Politics Magazine

Anita Hill Has Some Good Advice For Senate Committee

Posted on the 20 September 2018 by Jobsanger
Anita Hill Has Some Good Advice For Senate Committee (Photo of Anita Hill being sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 is by Arnie Sachs via Associated Press.)
The conduct of the Senate Judiciary Committee (especially the Republicans on the committee) was atrocious back in 1991. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had been accused of sexual harassment by Law Professor Anita Hill. Ms. Hill was allowed to testify, but was viciously attacked by those senators.
Now we face a similar situation as the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has been accused of a sexual attack on a 15 year old girl while in high school. And that accuser (a college professor now) seems very credible. She has come forward even though she knew she would be attacked (and she has received death threats and had her computer hacked already). She also took (and passed) a lie detector test. And there is evidence that she told a marriage counselor (and her husband) about the attack back in 2012. Kavanaugh has denied the attack happened.
How is the Senate Judiciary Committee going to handle the controversy this time? Are they going to repeat the mistakes made in 1991? It certainly looks like they might repeat those mistakes. Republican senators have called her accusation a "drive-by hit", called her a "confused woman", and even questioned who paid for the lie detector test.
This is a mistake. And with an election coming up fast, those senators need to realize that the women of America will be watching -- and women vote in larger numbers than men do. If the GOP senators are perceived as being unfair and disrespectful when the accuser testifies, they could well be punished on election day. Control of the Senate is in play, and the Republicans are already down among women by double-digits in nearly every poll. They could make that even worse.
What should they do? Anita Hill has some advice for them in an op-ed in The New York Times. Here is what she thinks they should do:
Here are some basic ground rules the committee should follow: Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing. Our interest in the integrity of the Supreme Court and in eliminating sexual misconduct, especially in our public institutions, are entirely compatible. Both are aimed at making sure that our judicial system operates with legitimacy. 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. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. Again, the senators’ fact-finding roles must guide their behavior. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault. Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate. That the committee plans to hold a hearing this coming Monday is discouraging. Simply put, a week’s preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges.
Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name. She was once anonymous, but no longer is. Dr. Blasey is not simply “Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser.” Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole person.
Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has. Since Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh have the same obligation to present the truth, this imbalance may not seem fair.
But, as Judge Kavanaugh stands to gain the lifetime privilege of serving on the country’s highest court, he has the burden of persuasion. And that is only fair.
In 1991, the phrase “they just don’t get it” became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence. With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, “not getting it” isn’t an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our senators must get it right. (Anita Hill is university professor of social policy, law, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University.)

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