Stop us when this sounds familiar: A woman comes forward to allege sexual misconduct by a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Her credibility and motives are attacked. She is invited to give testimony about some of the most painful moments of her life before a panel of unsympathetic men. And many simply dismiss her claims because she did not come forward sooner.
That’s what was happening in October of 1991 when Anita Hill alleged pervasive sexual harassment by her former boss, Clarence Thomas. And it’s what’s happening now after Christine Blasey Ford went public with her accusation that Judge Brett Kavnaugh sexually assaulted her during a high school party in the early 1980s.
One of the Senators who mistreated Ms. Hill then is still on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he hasn’t changed much. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah claims to welcome further investigation into Ms. Ford’s accusations but in the same breath casts the matter in a politcal light, claiming it has been orchestrated by Democrats to deny Mr. Kavanaugh a seat on the court.
Twenty-seven years later, amid the #MeToo movement that has forced a reckoning about how little has changed since Ms. Hill’s testimony, we can do better. Ms. Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis, has some excellent ideas for how. In an op-ed in the New York Times, she suggests a number of steps, including handing the initial investigation of the complaint not to the Senate, with its partisan interests and high pressure, but to an independent panel expert in such cases. We shouldn’t leave the truth to the mercy of people whose main concern isn't the truth or fairness but the midterm elections. Ms. Hill also urged the committee to take more time with the matter than it now plans. If the standard was two weeks of consideration in 1991, how can it be just one in 2018?
Ms. Hill’s final admonition, that we should call Mr. Kavanaugh’s accuser by her name, is particularly poignant. What KAL depicted in 1991 was a group of thugs intent on treating Ms. Hill like a political prop to be beaten down in the name of Justice Thomas’ confirmation. A generation later, we can’t treat Christine Blasey Ford the same way.
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