If there’s one name Clarence Thomas, the surliest conservative on the Supreme Court, never wants to hear again it’s Anita Hill. Back in 1991 his already-bitter confirmation hearing was almost derailed by allegations of verbal sexual harassment made by Hill, an attorney who had worked for Thomas at the Department of Education. Thomas denied the charges and was confirmed by 52-48 votes in the Senate, the narrowest margin for over a hundred years, but the mud never entirely went away.
Now his loose-cannon wife Ginny, who this year founded a Tea Party-linked lobbying group called Liberty Central, has given the story new life by leaving a bizarre voicemail message for Hill (now a professor at Brandeis University) suggesting that she apologise to the justice. If, as Ginny Thomas claims, it’s an “olive branch” it’s one she’s using to poke Hill in the eye. The story then provoked Justice Thomas’s ex-girlfriend Lillian McEwen to go public about his love of porn and dirty talk in the office. If she had done so 19 years earlier (when she didn’t have a memoir to sell) it would have done Hill’s credibility a world of good and possibly sunk Thomas’s confirmation.
The confirmation hearings coincided with the birth of Riot Grrrl (Thomas opposes abortion rights) and Hill became an icon-cum-martyr to a new generation of feminists. As soon as I heard about the new controversy, I thought of these lines from Sonic Youth: “I believe Anita Hill/Judge will rot in hell.” It’s a great example of the power of a quick topical lyric to preserve a news story and lead listeners two decades later to follow up on the reference.