Thursday, March 1, 2018

With Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers, and others taking falls, #MeToo Movement now has U.S Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in its cross hairs

Clarence Thomas
Could the #MeToo Movement, which started last October following a string of highly publicized sexual-misconduct cases, bring down a U.S. Supreme Court justice? Specifically, could it topple Clarence Thomas, who was at the heart of perhaps the most notorious sexual-harassment case in history?

Two recent articles in the mainstream press suggest members of the #MeToo Movement have Thomas in their cross hairs. The momentum generated by a wave of misconduct -- from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to Congressman John Conyers -- might make this an opportune time to revisit allegations that Thomas sexually harassed Anita Hill and others -- which turned his 1991 confirmation hearing into a firestorm.

Impeaching Thomas based on a re-examination of sexual-harassment allegations that surfaced roughly 27 years ago might be a long shot. But recent articles suggest a renewed look at Thomas' behavior could show that he lied to Congress -- and that is a crime, which could prove problematic for the most right-wing justice on the nation's high court.

As a side note, issues involving Clarence Thomas should have special resonance in the Southeast -- especially the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. On a personal note, I've seen signs of court-related misconduct that could be tied to Thomas and his supporters -- and, if proven, it could point to obstruction of justice and other crimes.

The most recent article about Thomas and the #MeToo Movement came from the Charlotte Observer on Feb. 22. Its focus is Angela Wright-Shannon, who was in Washington, D.C., in 1991 to testify against Thomas. Unlike Anita Hill, Wright-Shannon was not allowed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. From the Charlotte Observer:

Wright-Shannon was an assistant metro editor of the Observer and an aspiring columnist. She’d worked for Thomas at the EEOC. When somebody leaked an unpublished column that detailed her own experiences with him there, she was subpoenaed to testify.

She told Senate investigators at the time that Thomas pressured her for dates, asked her breast size and showed up at her apartment uninvited.

Wright-Shannon has not forgotten her unpleasant experiences working under Thomas. She wrote a recent Huff Post op-ed piece titled, "Clarence Thomas Sexually Harassed Me. Yes, He Should Be Impeached." From the article:

It’s highly unlikely that Thomas will be impeached, but we can hope. The Me Too movement has underscored the depth and breadth of sexual harassment in our society. Finally, women are being heard and believed. Not only are women no longer willing to be silent, but men are being put on notice that their time is up.

We can hope that the Congressional balance of power shifts this election year, and that predators like Thomas, and even Trump, will be removed from power. Maybe it’s not just a pipe dream that two of the most powerful men in the country ― a Supreme Court justice and the president ― would have to answer for the many ways they have mistreated women.

Author Jill Abramson argues in a Feb. 18 New York Magazine article that it is time to talk seriously about impeachment for Thomas:

To my surprise, the notion of impeaching Thomas resurfaced during the 2016 campaign. In the thousands of emails made public during the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton, there was one curious document from her State Department files that caught my attention, though it went largely unremarked upon in the press. Labeled “Memo on Impeaching Clarence Thomas” and written by a close adviser, the former right-wing operative David Brock, in 2010, the seven-page document lays out the considerable evidence . . .  that Thomas lied to the Judiciary Committee when he categorically denied that he had discussed pornographic films or made sexual comments in the office to Hill or any other women who worked for him. When I recently interviewed Brock, he said that Clinton “wanted to be briefed” on the evidence that Thomas lied in order to be confirmed to his lifelong seat on the Court. He said he had no idea if a President Hillary Clinton would have backed an effort to unseat Thomas.

Anita Hill
Unsurprisingly, the volume of sexual-harassment disclosures across so many professions recently has helped surface new, previously undisclosed information about Thomas’s predilection for bringing porn talk into professional settings. Late last year, a Washington attorney, Karen Walker, emailed New York. She had worked at the Bureau of National Affairs at the time of Hill’s testimony and said that a then colleague, Nancy Montwieler, who covered the EEOC for BNA’s Daily Labor Report, confided that Thomas had also made weird, sexual comments to her, including describing porn and other things he found sexually enticing. Montwieler, who considered Thomas a valuable source and didn’t think he was coming on to her, had invited him to a black-tie Washington press dinner, where he also made off-color remarks.

After Anita Hill came forward, Walker told me, she pressed Montwieler about whether she planned to speak up, but Montwieler brushed her off and said no, “because he’s been my source.” During the weekend of the Hill-Thomas hearings in October 1991, Walker called Montwieler again, begging her to say something. “I told her that what she knew could have helped Anita Hill,” Walker told me, as Senate Republicans tried to label Hill a liar and erotomaniac. “But she wanted to protect her source and said that if I said anything, she’d deny the whole thing.”

Until the two recent articles, Thomas' name had largely remained underground amid a swirl of sexual-harassment revelations since last October. Writes Abramson:

Perhaps that is a reflection of the conservative movement’s reluctance, going back decades, to inspect the rot in its power structure, even as its pundits and leaders have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. (Liberals of the present era — possibly in contrast to those of, say, the Bill Clinton era — have been much more ready to cast out from power alleged offenders, like Al Franken.)

But that relative quiet about Justice Thomas was striking to me. After all, the Hill-Thomas conflagration was the first moment in American history when we collectively, truly grappled with sexual harassment. For my generation, it was the equivalent of the Hiss-Chambers case, a divisive national argument about whom to believe in a pitched political and ideological battle, this one with an overlay of sex and race. The situation has seemed un-reopenable, having been tried at the highest level and shut down with the narrow 1991 Senate vote to confirm Thomas, after hearings that focused largely on Hill.

But it’s well worth inspecting, in part as a case study, in how women’s voices were silenced at the time by both Republicans and Democrats and as an illustration of what’s changed — and hasn’t — in the past 27 years (or even the last year). After all, it’s difficult to imagine Democrats, not to mention the media, being so tentative about such claims against a nominated justice today. It’s also worth looking closely at, because, as Smith’s account and my reporting since indicates, Thomas’s inappropriate behavior — talking about porn in the office, commenting on the bodies of the women he worked with — was more wide-ranging than was apparent during the sensational Senate hearings, with their strange Coke-can details.

But, most of all, because Thomas, as a crucial vote on the Supreme Court, holds incredible power over women’s rights, workplace, reproductive, and otherwise. His worldview, with its consistent objectification of women, is the one that’s shaping the contours of what’s possible for women in America today, more than that of just about any man alive, save for his fellow justices.

Now that Thomas' name has surfaced in the press with connections to the #MeToo Movement, could he be in trouble? Abramson says the answer is yes -- largely because of what is supposed to be the sacrosanct notion of "honesty under oath," in the legal profession:

And given the evidence that’s come out in the years since, it’s also time to raise the possibility of impeachment. Not because he watched porn on his own time, of course. Not because he talked about it with a female colleague — although our understanding of the real workplace harm that kind of sexual harassment does to women has evolved dramatically in the years since, thanks in no small part to those very hearings. Nor is it even because he routinely violated the norms of good workplace behavior, in a way that seemed especially at odds with the elevated office he was seeking. It’s because of the lies he told, repeatedly and under oath, saying he had never talked to Hill about porn or to other women who worked with him about risqué subject matter.

Lying is, for lawyers, a cardinal sin. State disciplinary committees regularly institute proceedings against lawyers for knowingly lying in court, with punishments that can include disbarment. Since 1989, three federal judges have been impeached and forced from office for charges that include lying. The idea of someone so flagrantly telling untruths to ascend to the highest legal position in the U.S. remains shocking, in addition to its being illegal. (Thomas, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on a detailed list of queries.)

If Clarence Thomas is shown to have lied under oath to Congress -- a criminal act -- he could be forced from the bench. And there is precedent for such action. The #MeToo Movement could prove to be Clarence Thomas' worst nightmare.

As for Thomas' possible ties to courtroom corruption in the Southeast -- and evidence we've seen in our own cases that he contributes to a broken justice system in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida -- we will address that in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

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