Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Kansas Republican who in 1991 cast a controversial vote to confirm Justice Thomas, said yesterday that she is disappointed with his performance on the nation's highest court.
"I have been somewhat disappointed in his abilities on the bench at this point, but maybe it's too early to make that decision," she said in an interview. Nevertheless, she added, "I frankly think that my decision perhaps should have been different."
Ms. Kassebaum said her disappointment had nothing whatsoever to do with the sexual-harassment allegations of Anita Hill. She termed that dispute "irrelevant."
Rather, she said, "I guess that I have been somewhat disappointed that I have not seen some of the opinions and some of the thought processes at work that I would like -- whether I agreed or disagreed with him."
Justice Thomas was barely confirmed in 1991, by a 52-48 vote of the Senate. At the time, there were only two women senators. Ms. Kassebaum voted for Justice Thomas; Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland opposed him.
The 1991 confirmation battle was enormously controversial, marked by questions about Justice Thomas' qualifications for a lifetime court appointment, his conservative views and, most explosively, allegations of sexual harassment from Ms. Hill. He vigorously denied doing anything improper.
At the time, Ms. Kassebaum was under tremendous pressure from women's groups to vote no, given her support for abortion rights and the chance to make a stand against sexual harassment. But she stuck with her Republican colleagues, citing fellow moderate John C. Danforth of Missouri as particularly persuasive. She also scolded a handful of Republicans who she felt were trying to vilify Ms. Hill.
Now in his fourth year on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas -- the court's only black justice and still its youngest -- has become best known for rarely asking questions in court and for his unwavering conservatism.