Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas Controversy Assignment


  On June 27, 1991, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the bench. Justice Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court and a renowned advocate for Civil Rights. On July 1, 1991, President George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a conservative African-American federal appeals court judge, to replace Justice Marshall. The Thomas nomination was controversial from the start. Many African-American and Civil Rights organizations opposed his appointment on the grounds of his conservative political beliefs, which included his stance against Affirmative Action programs. Women's groups were equally concerned about the possibility that Thomas would rule against women's reproductive rights--specifically the right to legal abortion. The legal profession also questioned Bush's nomination on the grounds that Clarence Thomas, who was only forty-three years old and had served as a federal judge for only two years, was too inexperienced to perform the job of Supreme Court Justice.

When Senate confirmation hearings began in September, the Thomas nomination took an unexpected turn when Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, came forward with accusations that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Hill had worked for Thomas years earlier when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Hill charged that Thomas harassed her with inappropriate discussion of sexual acts and pornographic films after she rebuffed his invitations to date him. A media frenzy quickly arose around Hill's allegations and Thomas's denials. When Thomas testified about Hill's claims before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he called the hearings, "a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks." The incident became one person's word against another's. In the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy encapsulates many historic themes of late twentieth century America including: race relations, gender politics, and the role of the media in daily life. Your assignment is to explore the many facets of this case and learn what the central issues were. When you have finished looking at the primary sources, take the quiz. This will prepare you for the take-home final exam, which will ask you to synthesize course themes in essays.

There are many questions to consider as you read the outline essay and the sources.

In terms of race relations:

1) How does the history of the Civil Rights movement influence how one views Clarence Thomas's nomination? Specifically, what are the arguments for and against Affirmative Action? Why has this issue become so contested in the 1990s? Who benefits from it? Who does it hurt?

2) Why were some African-Americans upset that Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas? Should an African-American woman put her allegiance to her race above speaking out about other transgressions of power?

3) How did African-Americans feel about Thomas as a replacement for Thurgood Marshall? How did Marshall's position on affirmative action compare to Thomas's?

In terms of gender politics:

1) What does the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy teach us about women in the workplace? Do women face unique challenges that men do not? How should sexual harassment be defined and should there be a statute of limitations as to when accusations can be made?

2) What did the Senate Hearings teach the American public about the representation of women in Congress? What is the history of women in politics? Why are so few women elected to high government offices? Why was 1992 called the "Year of the Woman" and how did the Anita Hill case contribute to this phenomenon?

In terms of the role of the media:

1) How did the media influence the nomination process? Was Thomas justified in his claim that he was a victim of a "high-tech lynching"?

2) Should the media show more restraint in exploring the private lives of government officials? Must public figures and government officials give up their rights to privacy once they choose a public career?

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