As more victims of sexual misconduct come forward and older allegations made against high-profile figures are revisited, recent focus has been shifted to Joe Biden and the role he played in Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In 1991, Hill testified at a confirmation hearing for Thomas after he was nominated by then-President George H. W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. She accused Thomas of sexual harassment, saying that he would engage her in inappropriate conversations of a graphic nature when she worked with him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“He spoke 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,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts. On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”
On Wednesday, The Washington Post published a damning interview with Hill and five current and former Democratic congresswomen who fought to allow Hill’s testimony.
Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) asked Biden, who presided as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearing, to make time for Hill’s testimony. Instead, Schroeder indicated that the then-Delaware senator made a promise to another male senator in the gym to have a “very quick hearing:”
We went to see Biden, because we were so frustrated by it. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don’t understand how important one’s word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’s chief sponsor] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing, and he had to get it out before Columbus Day.
Biden was also said to have promised Hill time to speak before Thomas. Instead, Thomas spoke before Hill in what D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton called a “rebuttal before you hear the accusation.”
Last week, Biden made an apology for his conduct while speaking at a Glamour event, about 26 years after the fact.
“The message I’ve delivered before is I am so sorry if she believes that … I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through. Think of the courage that it took for her to come forward,” he told Glamour Editor-in-chief Cindi Leive when she asked why Hill has since stated that she did not feel she was given a fair process.
Just before apologizing, Biden said he believed Hill’s accusations and voted against Thomas.
Hill addressed his apology in The Washington Post interview:
…I still don’t think it takes ownership of his role in what happened. And he also doesn’t understand that it wasn’t just that I felt it was not fair. It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite.