ANY day now, Clarence Thomas will assume the robes of an
associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and take his
seat behind the bench, where he will likely sit for well over a
Seldom, possibly never, has a justice been seated under such
intense and pervasive public scrutiny and under such a cloud of
Some of the discontent is directed not at Judge Thomas but at
the confirmation process itself.
Several suggestions have come forward to make confirmation
proceedings more orderly and rational - and less like a
no-holds-barred political campaign.
But many experts doubt the political will to change a process
that has, after all, been a practical success for conservatives.
Thomas's 52-to-48 confirmation vote in the Senate was the
closest in memory. And some of those senators who voted for him
expressed great reluctance.
"I intend to vote for confirmation but without enthusiasm," said
Sen. James Exon (D) of Nebraska before the vote on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, in my view, the hearings have not provided any
overall conclusive facts or definite truth."
About half the country sided with Thomas in his credibility
contest with Anita Hill, the Oklahoma law professor who accused the
judge of sexually harassing her 10 years ago. About a quarter did
"I have been troubled by the allegations," Sen. Richard Shelby
(D) of Alabama told a network interviewer before the vote, but he
opted to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Several other
Democrats made the same grudging choice.
The confirmation process itself has drawn much of the heat for
the past week.
Before a leak to the press forced Professor Hill's allegations
of sexual harassment into the open, the Thomas hearings were widely
considered a failed effort by Democratic senators to draw out his
After Hill's charges came to dominate the proceedings, Thomas
himself bitterly complained about his ordeal and what it cost his
reputation. His supporters railed against the press leak that was
timed so deftly to attempt to derail his confirmation.
Citizen-viewers complained that the graphic remarks attributed
to Thomas by Hill were spilling into their living rooms during
prime time and morning cartoon hours.
Hill's supporters blasted the Senate Judiciary Committee for
failing to aggressively investigate her charges when they first
arose. They bemoaned Republican tactics in attacking Hill's
credibility and Democratic passivity in failing to closely
"At a minimum," says political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the
University of Texas, "the nature and character of these proceedings
have taken the quality of a campaign." And as in modern campaigns,
he adds, both sides became "tawdry and mean."
"We've gotten into a situation in which each side is desperate
for victory and distrustful of the other side," says Dr. Buchanan.
"So you get a kind of political arms race."
One proposal that several prominent law professors have espoused
for reining in the politicking over Supreme Court appointments is
for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the White House to draft a
mutually acceptable slate of candidates for the White House to
nominate from. …