Anita Hill, stung by justice's book, stands by story
She defends 1991 testimony about Thomas
WASHINGTON - On Sunday evening, Anita Hill turned on the television at her Waltham, Mass., home to watch "60 Minutes." She knew the man she had famously accused of sexual harassment, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, would appear on the show to promote his autobiography.
Hill expected Thomas to attack her credibility. But, she said, she did not expect such intensity. Sixteen years after Hill's testimony nearly scuttled Thomas's nomination, a new generation of Americans heard Thomas label his accuser a liar, adding: "She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed."
Absorbing these charges, Hill said, she once again found herself shocked by Thomas's words. "I am surprised he has held on to the anger for that long," Hill said in an interview. "I'm surprised at the level of intensity 16 years later."
Hill, now 51, said that when she heard about Thomas's book, she was reluctant to re-engage in the dispute that riveted the nation in 1991. But, she said, she decided she needed to defend herself. She said she stands by her sworn testimony. She said Thomas did make suggestive statements to her and talk about pornographic movies. She noted, as she did in 1991, that she took a polygraph test and passed it, while Thomas declined to be tested.
She said she rejects the suggestion this week by Thomas's wife, Virginia, that she issue an apology.
Moreover, Hill has not put the episode behind her, either. A few weeks ago, she began a sabbatical from her teaching job at Brandeis University, beginning a one-year stint as a visiting scholar at Wellesley College that will enable her for the first time to go through all of the 20,000 or so letters she received after testifying against Thomas.
The letters are a mix of stories of other people's experiences with sexual harassment, support for her decision to take on Thomas, and condemnations of her testimony. By studying the letters, she said, she hopes to find a deeper meaning in the turmoil.
Now, the publication of Thomas's book, "My Grandfather's Son," has put Hill back in a place she thought she had left long ago - the national stage.
"What I found very surprising is this is a Supreme Court justice," Hill said. "He is making these claims that have either been disproved or he is making claims for which he has no proof. He is talking in these generalities without specifics, making statements inconsistent with the known facts. Having a Supreme Court justice do that was what was so shocking about it . . . it is still painful to have those kinds of things said."
Supporters of Thomas, meanwhile, welcome the possibility that the book may spark a reexamination of the Thomas-Hill clash.
Wendy Long, who first met Thomas in 1987 and clerked for him in 1997, said that Hill's allegations are "the most inconsistent thing in the universe" about the man she knows.
"Her story was always uncorroborated," Long, who is counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said of Hill.
Hill first began working for Thomas when he was assistant secretary of education for civil rights, and she kept working for him when he became chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Ronald Reagan.
Hill asserts that Thomas sexually harassed her when they worked together in the education department, making unwanted advances and suggestive comments about pornographic movies. She said that she followed him to a second department because she thought "the behavior had stopped." But she said it started again.
After Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court, Hill told congressional investigators about the alleged harassment. Hill testified at a contentious hearing that became a nationally televised referendum on his character and her credibility. Eventually, Thomas's nomination was approved 52-to-48 by the Senate.
For years, Thomas's refusal to speak publicly about the experience - reinforced by his practice of rarely speaking from the bench - seemed to indicate that the controversy was buried. But then he accepted a $1.5 million advance for the book, saying he was determined to set the record straight.
In the book, Thomas wrote that a colleague asked him to hire Hill in 1981 even though she had told him that "I detest" Reagan. He hired her and initially found her work "adequate," Thomas wrote.
Thomas then drew a series of unflattering descriptions of Hill. On one page, for example, Thomas wrote: "Hill had been nagging me to write her a letter or recommendation"; "Anita wasn't performing up to expectations and failed to finish her assignments on time"; and "I hadn't realized her work had been so deficient."
He also referred to "Anita's rude attitude" and called her "sullen and withdrawn."
On the same page, Thomas suggested that Hill was too interested in him personally. "It had been bothering me as well that she seemed far too interested in my social calendar," he wrote. "She regularly inquired about my after-hours activities and on more than one occasion had asked if she could accompany me to professional functions."
Hill, asked about these accusations, responded, "I have no idea what he is talking about."
During the hearing, Hill testified that Thomas spoke to her "about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes. . . . On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him at all, and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about these subjects."
Thomas does not go into a count-by-count refutation of Hill's allegations. Instead, he writes: "I have no intention of repeating the dirty details here. Suffice it to say that it was a relief to hear them at long last, since there was no truth to them: they were nothing more than extravagant fiction concocted so as to have the maximum possible impact on the public."
Hill said she has not considered suing Thomas over his statements.
Thomas and Hill have not spoken to each other since before the hearings. In 1997, Hill released her memoir of the hearing, "Speaking Truth to Power," in which she wrote that Thomas once warned her that if she spoke about his behavior "it would ruin his career."
In the nine years since she moved to Massachusetts and began teaching at Brandeis, Hill said, she has mostly led a quiet life. She spoke in 2005 at Faneuil Hall on Martin Luther King Day, which she called inspiring for someone who was the youngest of 13 children growing up on an Oklahoma farm.
She hopes her latest project, the examination of the letters received after her testimony, will produce some kind of artistic work - perhaps a performance of readings - that will help educate people about sexual harassment. "People say, 'Well, it is over now,' " Hill said. But she said, "It is part of my life. I've tried to make it a part of my life that is a positive part. I don't want to ignore it either."
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