Twenty-seven years ago, when Anita Hill faced the country to testify that she was subjected to terrible workplace sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, it was shocking. Watching the video now of Thomas’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee it is still shocking.
While millions of Americans recoiled in disgust, they admired Hill’s courage, composure and credibility. Yet despite her riveting testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate confirmed Thomas and he has been serving on our nation’s highest court for the 27 years since.
Watching Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, preside Thursday over the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh – who stands accused of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct – it seems that sadly, little has changed.
Kavanaugh, like Thomas before him, denies all wrongdoing, despite the strong testimony of a woman who says she was victimized by him. “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” Kavanaugh testified Thursday.
The Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 Friday afternoon to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote in coming days. Every Republican on the committee voted in favor of Kavanaugh, while every Democrat voted against him.
Grassley was on the Judiciary Committee back in 1991 and asked some of the most invasive questions of Anita Hill. He continued that behavior Thursday by opening the hearing with a lecture that can only be seen as an attempt to intimidate Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her some 36 years ago when both were in high school.
Millions of people who watched Ford testify Thursday believe her. And just like Hill – who ushered in a generation of women in politics, government, and business – the same will be true of Ford.
In emotional and clearly sincere testimony, Ford said a drunken Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed, got on top of her, tried unsuccessfully to take her clothes off and covered her mouth with his hand to stifle her screams. Ford said she was terrified that he would rape her and might even accidentally kill her.
Grassley failed to intimidate Ford, just as he failed to intimidate Hill in 1991. Grassley and his GOP colleagues also abdicated their responsibility to question Ford because they knew it would look bad for 11 male Republican senators to ask tough questions of a woman who said she is a survivor of sexual assault.
Instead, the Republicans brought in a woman – veteran sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell – to question Ford, thinking that would look better. It didn’t work. No one was fooled.
Grassley and his Republican colleagues clearly still believe that women are second-class citizens who don’t have a right to use their voices. The GOP senators showed that while much has changed in the world in the past 27 years, the contempt and insensitivity of some men toward women has not. We have a right to expect more of our elected officials.
In fact, when Ford was testifying, Grassley shut down Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota when they asked for documents that Ford, Mitchell and the Republicans on the committee had not shared with the Democrats. Sharing such documents normally happens routinely in congressional hearings.
And Grassley – who went into the hearing with a closed mind, determined to confirm Kavanaugh no matter what Ford would say – repeatedly expressed his opinions to Ford and his Democratic colleagues, and then used his position as chairman to prevent them from responding.
While Grassley and the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee seem not to have progressed in their views of women in the past 27 years, the rest of the country most certainly has moved forward.
You can’t make progress, or history, when you are a bystander. But that’s what Grassley and his Republican colleagues showed themselves to be.
The Senate Republicans are stuck in the past but the rest of the country is building the future – and the future is female.
Already, a record number of women are running for office across the country in the November midterm elections. And a record number of women – most of them Democrats – are virtually certain to be elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate on Nov. 6, along with many other offices.
The same thing happened following the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing after Anita Hill testified.
Long before Ford came forward to say she was assaulted by Kavanaugh, women have been working to change our country for the better – much as they did after the Thomas confirmation hearing.
Millions of people who watched Ford testify Thursday believe her. Women will remember her and her courage. And just like Hill – who ushered in a generation of women in politics, government, and business – the same will be true of Ford. After 27 years, history will repeat itself – for the better.