Thomas-Hill Hearings Revisited

By Graves, Florence | St. Louis Journalism Review, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Thomas-Hill Hearings Revisited

Graves, Florence, St. Louis Journalism Review

Like the Kennedy assassination, Watergate and the Vietnam war, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings have become a defining event in modern history that promises to be reexamined, replayed and reevaluated for decades to come.

Part of the reason is that even though millions of people witnessed the hearings, the public still doesn't believe it has gotten the full story.

Why wasn't Angela Wright, the "other woman" subpoenaed by the committee and standing by in Washington, ever called to testify about inappropriate sexual remarks she said Thomas made to her? What's the real reason Anita Hill didn't testify a second time? Why didn't Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Biden defend Anita Hill more aggressively?

The hearings so inflamed the country that most of the principals, including Hill and Thomas, have refused to give interviews. Now two key players, Sen. Biden and one of Anita Hill's lawyers, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, respond in taped interviews to some of the most controversial aspects of the hearings.

They clash on many of the hearings' key issues. Biden passionately argues that Anita Hill's positive lie detector test and Thomas' reported pornographic movie-viewing habits were not relevant; Ogletree is adamant that they were. The men are in surprising agreement on other aspects: that Angela Wright's testimony could have changed the course of history and that the only reason Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court is because he is black.

Biden was interviewed a few months before the first anniversary of the October 1991 hearings. Ogletree was interviewed a few months before the second anniversary and was asked to respond to some of Biden's comments, contentions and observations.

Was Anita Hill's lie detector test relevant?

BIDEN: Even though the rules of evidence do not pertain [in congressional hearings], they do give us great insight into the best way to shed light on the truth. . . . Case in point: Lie detector tests. I fought for over 20 years [against] their admission [in court] because every civil libertarian, including every women's group, has argued against them because they're used against people wrongly. There is no conclusive evidence they are accurate.

OGLETREE: Rumors had been circulating rampantly that Anita Hill was unwilling to take one. And that would have been the story--unwillingness to take one. . . . I think the point is that if Anita Hill had failed the lie detector test, I assure you those would have been the first words out of Sen. (Orrin) Hatch's or Sen. (Alan) Simpson's mouths. The reason it was so important is that they were calling her a liar. Now these things aren't used in court very widely, but they are important investigative tools. In fact, every major federal and law enforcement agency uses lie detector tests.

When we made the decision to take the lie detector test, we realized there was no fair process. That they were not going to ask Anita Hill probing questions about what happened. They were going to ask her whether she had had a traffic ticket, maybe who she slept with, who her roommates were. And on the other hand, Judge Thomas said, "I'm not going to talk about my private life at all." . . .

The real problem is that the rules of evidence were totally irrelevant. I mean you had Alan Simpson and others reading from newspaper clippings or letters from people who weren't under oath. Sen. Hatch apparently enjoyed reading from The Exorcist. Talk about rules of evidence. What is the relevance of that?

Was Clarence Thomas' alleged pornographic movie-viewing habit relevant?

BIDEN: Women will come in and say, "Why didn't you let in [evidence of Thomas' alleged pornographic movie viewing habits]?" How about if there was evidence that SHE liked pornography? Would it have shed any light on whether or not she was telling the truth? [Such information about Thomas] would have been independent verification that Thomas watched pornography, not that he talked to her about it, any more than if he had said, "This woman is promiscuous," and then I established that this woman had slept with four different men in one week. …

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