In 1991, the U.S. Senate reopened its hearings on President Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, after a private FBI interview leaked to the press. The interviewee: Anita Hill, a lawyer and former employee of Thomas’s. Hill testified to the Senate panel that Thomas had sexually harassed her in the early 1980s while they were both working at the Department of Education and then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill became the object of ruthless public and political torment as a result of her testimony. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah attacked her for supposedly “working in tandem with ‘slick lawyers’ and interest groups bent on destroying Thomas’s chances to join the court.”
Thomas was not subjected to the same scrutiny. The Senate confirmed him 52-48.
This week, another Supreme Court nominee found himself the object of sexual misconduct allegations: Brett Kavanaugh. As the district court judge came within arm’s reach of confirmation, Senator Diane Feinstein announced she had received an anonymous letter from a woman accusing Kavanaugh of assaulting her while they were both in high school. The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, revealed her identity in The Washington Post on Sunday and agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In other words, two Supreme Court nominees have been accused of sexual harassment in under 30 years. This would probably a be more shocking statistic a few years ago, before this sort of revelation became so depressingly ordinary. Hundreds of actors, politicians, and other public figures have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past year. America is in the midst of the #MeToo movement, and, as a result, the general public is now acutely aware of just how frequently women are mistreated.
What is unique about this case is that it will show us whether the #MeToo movement has made any impact where it counts most: the federal government. If the Senate votes to deny Kavanaugh a spot on the Supreme Court, the women and progressives of America can rejoice knowing that their protests are not lost on those who represent them in Congress, and that, with any hope, real, national policy to combat these age-old problems is soon to follow.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we will have not one but two misogynistic quasi-rapists on the Court, and we will have gone nowhere in the 27 years since Anita Hill’s testimony.