Photo credits: C-SPAN Cable News Network
In July 1991, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, announced his retirement after 34 years. President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a then 43-year-old African American judge known for his conservative beliefs, to fill the seat. Thomas had been chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during the Reagan administration.
In 1990, Bush appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals. As the confirmation hearings for Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination got underway, he evaded controversy over his conservative views on issues (such as abortion) by refusing to state a clear political position. Thomas seemed headed for an easy confirmation. However, Anita Hill (pictured right), a former Thomas aide, stepped forward and accused the embattled judge of sexual harassment.
Hill served as an aide to Thomas at the Department of Education and the EEOC during the 1980s. She alleged that the Supreme Court nominee had repeatedly made sexually offensive comments to her. Beginning on October 11, 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee held four days of televised hearings on Hill’s charges. Americans were shocked by both the frankness of Hill’s testimony.
They were also shocked at the unsympathetic response of the all-male committee, some of whom were openly antagonistic toward Hill. Thomas, meanwhile, denied the charges. Some witnesses called on his behalf cast doubt on Hill’s character and mental stability. On October 16, 1991, the U.S. Senate narrowly voted to approve Thomas’ confirmation.
Although the hearings left the Senate and the nation deeply divided, the episode served to foster a greater public awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Hill’s courageous testimony under oath needed to be heard. In taking over the seat of the liberal Thurgood Marshall, Thomas has bent repeatedly to the conservative will of the nation’s highest court. Conservative influence has dominated the Supreme Court since the 1990s. This continued after the turn of the century.
This numerically lopsided, disproportionately conservative, and male-dominated influence of America’s High Court continues today.
Reference: Editors of History.com. (2010 February 09) Clarence Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thomas-confirmed-to-the-supreme-court
*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.