Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings Primary Source eText

Primary Source

Despite the accusations of Anita Hill, the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-48 vote. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Despite the accusations of Anita Hill, the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-48 vote. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
During the Senate confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Anita Hill accuses Thomas of sexual harrassment. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. During the Senate confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Anita Hill accuses Thomas of sexual harrassment. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.


By: Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill

Date: 1998

Source: Thomas, Clarence, and Anita Hill. Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings. Reprinted in Marcus, Robert, and Anthony Marcus, eds. On Trial: American History Through Court Proceedings and Hearings. St. James, N.Y.: Brandywine, 1998, 205, 210–212, 217, 219–220.

About the Authors: Clarence Thomas (1948–) graduated from Yale Law School, worked for John Danforth, the attorney general of Missouri, and then was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He was nominated to the federal appeals court in 1990, and to the Supreme Court in 1991. Anita Hill (1956–) graduated from Yale Law School and worked as Thomas's assistant at the EEOC. She taught at Oral Roberts University, the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and Brandeis University.


The United States Senate, under the Constitution, is given the power to grant or refuse consent on appointments to the Supreme Court. This approval historically has been generally a rubberstamp, as most Supreme Court nominations have been approved with little controversy. One of the first Supreme Court nominees to run into publicized confirmation difficulties was Louis D. Brandeis, who was opposed solely because he was Jewish and a Progressive. Brandeis, though, was approved. As the twentieth century progressed, most presidential nominees for the Supreme Court were approved.

Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson (served 1963–1969) and Richard Nixon (served 1969–1974), however, did not have the same good fortune as their predecessors. Johnson's nominee for Chief Justice, Abe Fortas, was found to have some questionable financial dealings and not only failed to become chief justice, but also was forced to resign his seat as an associate justice. Nixon nominated two Southerners to be Supreme Court Justices, Clement Haynesworth and G. Harrold Carswell, who also happened to agree with his desire for "law and order." They were defeated because both were seen as defenders of segregation. Additionally, Carswell was viewed as unqualified. After that, the nominations for the Supreme Court for the following fifteen years were relatively uncontroversial.

Ronald Reagan (served 1981–1989), however, ran into difficulties with his nomination of Robert Bork in 1986. Bork was viewed as being intellectually gifted—but far too conservative—and was defeated. Douglas Ginsburg, the next nominee, withdrew his name after allegations of prior marijuana use surfaced. Ginsburg was among the first nominees since Brandeis where personal issues had played a role in the process. Reagan then settled on Anthony Kennedy, who was approved. George H.W. Bush's (served 1989–1993) first appointment, David Souter, presented no difficulties in the consent process, but his second did. Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, resigned, and Bush picked Clarence Thomas to replace him.

During the hearings, Thomas's lack of qualifications and lack of appellate experience bothered many, but it appeared that he would be confirmed. Then Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma—and prior subordinate to Thomas—accused him of sexual harassment. During the 1980s, sexual harassment gained visibility, as many women refused to tolerate it in the workplace. What had been commonplace in many working environments—men sexually harassing women—was no longer going to be accepted. Hill's accusations against Thomas for harassment provided a highly publicized forum for the issue.


Many in the Senate who favored Thomas's appointment appeared to ignore the serious nature of Hill's comments. This is reflected in the remark of Senator Specter, who noted casually that the Senate discussed breasts all the time, implying that Hill should not have been offended by Thomas's discussion of them. Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 vote.

Many women were outraged by the seeming dismissal of Hill's complaints. And in 1992, forty-nine women were elected to Congress, including three to the Senate. Several senators were forced to resign due to sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment complaints in front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency (formerly run by Thomas) that oversees these issues, greatly increased; and sexual harassment judgments more than quadrupled during the 1990s. Nearly every company instituted "sexual harassment policies" to prevent sexual harassment, and these worked to varying degrees. Hill remains in academia. In Thomas's twelve years on the Supreme Court, he has voted with the conservative block, but has written few memorable opinions.

Primary Source: Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: The excerpt opens with a cast of characters. Anita Hill testifies first, describing Thomas's sexual harassment. Several senators question her, including some who question her veracity, and suggest that she should not have been embarrassed by the harassment. Thomas then testifies, arguing that the hearing is "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks," that none of Hill's testimony is true, even though he had not listened to it, and denying that he had ever harassed Hill.

Committee on the Judiciary

Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Delaware, Chairman

Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts

Howard M. Metzenbaum, Ohio

Dennis Deconcini, Arizona

Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont

Howell Heflin, Alabama

Paul Simon, Illinois

Herbert Kohl, Wisconsin

Strom Thurmond, South Carolina

Orrin G. Hatch, Utah

Alan K. Simpson, Wyoming

Charles E. Grassley, Iowa

Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania

Hank Brown, Colorado

Dates of hearings:

Friday, October 11, 1991

Saturday, October 12, 1991

Sunday, October 13, 1991


Hill, Anita F., professor of law, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Thomas, Judge Clarence, of Georgia, to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Testimony of Anita F. Hill, Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

The Chairman: Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all the incidents that you have alleged?

Ms. Hill: I think the one that was the most embarrassing was this discussion of pornography involving women with large breasts and engaged in a variety of sex with different people, or animals. That was the thing that embarrassed me the most and made me feel the most humiliated.

The Chairman: If you can, in his words—not yours—in his words, can you tell us what, on that occasion, he said to you? You have described the essence of the conversation. In order for us to determine—well, can you tell us, in his words, what he said?

Ms. Hill: I really cannot quote him verbatim. I can remember something like, you really ought to see these films that I have seen or this material that I have seen. This woman has this kind of breasts or breasts that measure this size, and they got her in there with all kinds of things, she is doing all kinds of different sex acts. And, you know, that kind of, those were the kinds of words. Where he expressed his enjoyment of it, and seemed to try to encourage me to enjoy that kind of material, as well.

The Chairman: Did he indicate why he thought you should see this material?

Ms. Hill: No.

The Chairman: Why do you think, what was your reaction, why do you think he was saying these things to you?

Ms. Hill: Well, coupled with the pressures about going out with him, I felt that implicit in this discussion about sex was the offer to have sex with him, not just to go out with him. There was never any explicit thing about going out to dinner or going to a particular concert or movie, it was, "we ought to go out" and given his other conversations I took that to mean, we ought to have sex or we ought to look at these pornographic movies together.

The Chairman: Professor, at your press conference, one of your press conferences, you said that the issue that you raised about Judge Thomas was "an ugly issue." Is that how you viewed these conversations?

Ms. Hill: Yes. They were very ugly. They were very dirty. They were disgusting.

The Chairman: Were any one of these conversations—this will be my last question, my time is up—were any one of these conversations, other than being asked repeatedly to go out, were any one of them repeated more than once? The same conversation, the reference to—

Ms. Hill: The reference to his own physical attributes was repeated more than once, yes.

The Chairman: Now, again, for the record, did he just say I have great physical attributes or was he more graphic?

Ms. Hill: He was much more graphic.

The Chairman: Can you tell us what he said?

Ms. Hill: Well, I can tell you that he compared his penis size, he measured his penis in terms of length, those kinds of comments.

The Chairman: Thank you.…

Sen. Specter: We have a statement from former dean of Oral Roberts Law School who quotes you as making laudatory comments about Judge Thomas, that he "is a fine man and an excellent legal scholar." In the course of three years when Dean Tuttle knew you at the law school, that you had always praised him and had never made any derogatory comments. Is Dean Tuttle correct?

Ms. Hill: During the time that I was at Oral

Roberts University I realized that Charles Kothe, who was a founding dean of that school, had very high regard for Clarence Thomas. I did not risk talking in disparaging ways about Clarence Thomas at that time.

I don't recall any specific conversations about Clarence Thomas in which I said anything about his legal scholarship. I did not really know of his legal scholarship, certainly at that time.

Sen. Specter: Well, I can understand it if you did not say anything, but Dean Tuttle makes the specific statement. His words are, that you said, "the most laudatory comments."

Ms. Hill: I have no response to that because I do not know exactly what he is saying.

Sen. Specter: There is a question about Phyllis

Berry who was quoted in The New York Times on October 7, "In an interview Ms. Barry [sic] suggested that the allegations," referring to your allegations, "were the result of Ms. Hill's disappointment and frustration that Mr. Thomas did not show any sexual interest in her."

You were asked about Ms. Berry at the interview on October 9 and were reported to have said, "Well, I don't know Phyllis Berry and she doesn't know me." And there are quite a few people who have come forward to say that they saw you and Ms. Berry together and that you knew each other very well.

Ms. Hill: I would disagree with that. Ms. Berry worked at the EEOC. She did attend some staff meetings at the EEOC. We were not close friends. We did not socialize together and she has no basis for making a comment about my social interests, with regard to Clarence Thomas or anyone else.

I might add, that at the time that I had an active social life and that I was involved with other people.

Sen. Specter: Did Ms. Anna Jenkins and Ms. J.C.

Alvarez, who both have provided statements attesting to the relationship between you and Ms. Berry, a friendly one. Where Ms. Berry would have known you [sic], were both Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Alvarez co-workers in a position to observe your relationship with Ms. Berry?

Ms. Hill: They were both workers at the EEOC. I can only say that they were commenting on our relationship in the office. It was cordial and friendly. We were not unfriendly with each other, but we were not social acquaintances. We were professional acquaintances.

Sen. Specter: So that when you said, Ms. Berry doesn't know me and I don't know her, you weren't referring to just that, but some intensity of knowledge?

Ms. Hill: Well, this is a specific remark about my sexual interest. And I think one has to know another person very well to make those kinds of remarks unless they are very openly expressed.

Sen. Specter: Well, did Ms. Berry observe you and Judge Thomas together in the EEOC office?

Ms. Hill: Yes, at staff meetings where she attended and at the office, yes.

Sen. Specter: Let me pick up on Senator Biden's line of questioning. You referred to the "oddest episode I remember," then talked about the Coke incident. When you made your statement to the FBI, why was it that that was omitted if it were so strong in your mind and such an odd incident.

Ms. Hill: I spoke to the FBI agents and I told them the nature of comments, and did not tell them more specifics. I referred to the specific comments that were in my statement.

Sen. Specter: Well, when you talked to the FBI agents, you did make specific allegations about specific sexual statements made by Judge Thomas.

Ms. Hill: Yes.

Sen. Specter: So that your statement to the FBI did have specifics.

Ms. Hill: Yes.

Sen. Specter: And my question to you, why, if this was such an odd episode, was it not included when you talked to the FBI?

Ms. Hill: I do not know.…

Sen. Specter: You testified this morning, in response to Senator Biden, that the most embarrassing question involved—this is not too bad—women's large breasts. That is a word we use all the time. That was the most embarrassing aspect of what Judge Thomas had said to you?

Ms. Hill: No. The most embarrassing aspect was his description of the acts of these individuals, these women, the acts that those particular people would engage in. It wasn't just the breasts; it was the continuation of his story about what happened in those films with the people with this characteristic, physical characteristic.

Sen. Specter: With the physical characteristic of—

Ms. Hill: The large breasts.

Sen. Specter: Well, in your statement to the FBI you did refer to the films but there is no reference to the physical characteristic you describe. I don't want to attach too much weight to it, but I had thought you said that the aspect of large breasts was the aspect that concerned you, and that was missing from the statement to the FBI.

Ms. Hill: I have been misunderstood. It wasn't the physical characteristic of having large breasts. It was the description of the acts that this person with this characteristic would do, the acts that they would engage in, group acts with animals, things of that nature involving women.…

Testimony of Hon. Clarence Thomas of Georgia, to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

The Chairman: Do you have anything you would like to say?

Judge Thomas: Senator, I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way ever harassed her.

Second, and I think a more important point, I think that this today is a travesty. I think that it is disgusting. I think that this hearing should never occur in America. This is a case in which this sleaze, this dirt, was searched for by staffers of members of this committee, was then leaked to the media, and this committee and this body validated it and displayed it in prime time over our entire nation.

How would any member on this committee or any person in this room or any person in this country would like sleaze said about him or her in this fashion or this dirt dredged up and this gossip and these lies displayed in this manner? How would any person like it?

The Supreme Court is not worth it. No job is worth it. I am not here for that. I am here for my name, my family, my life and my integrity. I think something is dreadfully wrong with this country, when any person, any person in this free country would be subjected to this. This is not a closed room.

There was an FBI investigation. This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It is a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for up-pity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kow-tow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.…

Sen. Heflin: Now, I suppose you have heard Professor Hill, Ms. Hill, Anita F. Hill testify today.

Judge Thomas: No, I haven't.

Sen. Heflin: You didn't listen?

Judge Thomas: No, I didn't. I have heard enough lies.

Sen. Heflin: You didn't listen to her testimony?

Judge Thomas: No, I didn't.

Sen. Heflin: On television?

Judge Thomas: No, I didn't. I've heard enough lies. Today is not a day that, in my opinion, is high among the days in our country. This is a travesty. You spent the entire day destroying what it has taken me forty-three years to build and providing a forum for that.

Sen. Heflin: Judge Thomas, you know we have a responsibility too, and as far as I am involved, I had nothing to do with Anita Hill coming here and testifying. We are trying to get to the bottom of this. And, if she is lying, then I think you can help us prove that she was lying.

Judge Thomas: Senator, I am incapable of proving the negative that did not occur.

Sen. Heflin: Well, if it did not occur, I think you are in a position, with certainly your ability to testify, in effect, to try to eliminate it from people's minds.

Judge Thomas: Senator, I didn't create it in people's minds. This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a confidential way. It was then leaked last weekend to the media. I did not do that. And how many members of this committee would like to have the same scurrilous, uncorroborated allegations made about him and then leaked to national newspapers and then be drawn and dragged before a national forum of this nature to discuss those allegations that should have been resolved in a confidential way?

Sen. Heflin: Well, I certainly appreciate your attitude towards leaks. I happen to serve on the Senate Ethics Committee and it has been a sieve.

Judge Thomas: But it didn't leak on me. This leaked on me and it is drowning my life, my career and my integrity, and you can't give it back to me, and this committee can't give it back to me, and this Senate can't give it back to me. You have robbed me of something that can never be restored.

Sen. DeConcini: I know exactly how you feel.

Sen. Heflin: Judge Thomas, one of the aspects of this is that she could be living in a fantasy world. I don't know. We are just trying to get to the bottom of all of these facts.

But if you didn't listen and didn't see her testify, I think you put yourself in an unusual position. You are, in effect, defending yourself, and basically some of us want to be fair to you, fair to her, but if you didn't listen to what she said today, then that puts it somewhat in a more difficult task to find out what the actual facts are relative to this matter.

Judge Thomas: The facts keep changing, Senator.

When the FBI visited me, the statements to this committee and the questions were one thing. The FBI's subsequent questions were another thing. And the statements today, as I received summaries of them, are another thing.

I am not—it is not my fault that the facts change. What I have said to you is categorical that any allegations that I engaged in any conduct involving sexual activity, pornographic movies, attempted to date her, any allegations, I deny. It is not true.

So the facts can change but my denial does not. Ms. Hill was treated in a way that all my special assistants were treated, cordial, professional, respectful.

Sen. Heflin: Judge, if you are on the bench and you approach a case where you appear to have a closed mind and that you are only right, doesn't it raise issues of judicial temperament?

Judge Thomas: Senator? Senator, there is a difference between approaching a case objectively and watching yourself being lynched. There is no comparison whatsoever.

Sen. Hatch: I might add, he has personal knowledge of this as well, and personal justification for anger.

Sen. Heflin: Judge, I don't want to go over this stuff but, of course, there are many instances in which she has stated, but—and, in effect, since you didn't see her testify I think it is somewhat unfair to ask you specifically about it.

I would reserve my time and go ahead and let Senator Hatch ask you, and then come back.

Further Resources


Danforth, John C. Resurrection: the Confirmation of Clarence Thomas. New York: Viking, 1994.

Gerber, Scott Douglas. First Principles: the Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Hill, Anita, and Emma Coleman Jordan. Race, Gender, and Power in America: the Legacy of the Hill-Thomas Hearings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Levy, Anne, and Michele Antoinette Paludi. Workplace Sexual Harassment. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Morrison, Toni. Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.

Phelps, Timothy M., and Helen Winternitz. Capitol Games: Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, and the Story of a Supreme Court Nomination. New York: Hyperion, 1991.


An Outline of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill Debate. Available online at; website home page (accessed May 2, 2003).


Sexual Harassment? You Decide: Real Situations for Discussion. Des Moines, Iowa: VisionPoint, 2002.