The Sexual Assault Allegations Against Brett Kavanaugh Are Troublingly Familiar

by Hannah Golden
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Drama continues to unfold around Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's pick to take the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, after bombshell allegations were made public last week. In response, lots of people are seeing parallels between the Anita Hill case and the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Here's a quick refresher, and why that case matters now.

On Sunday, Sept. 16, Christine Blasey Ford came forward to allege that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both at a party in high school, which he vehemently denies. "This is a completely false allegation," Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on the allegations but had not heard back at time of publication. On Monday, Sept. 17, it was announced that the Senate will hear testimony from both Kavanaugh and his accuser on Sept. 24. As of writing, Ford has not yet confirmed she will testify.

Now, in looking ahead to next Monday, many are invoking Anita Hill, the headliner witness of the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Clarence Thomas, President George H. W. Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court.

In 1991, Hill, then a University of Oklahoma law professor, had come forward accusing Thomas, for whom she worked years earlier at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), of sexual harassment. The harassment she described was pretty egregious, involving his allegedly repeatedly asking her out and subjecting her to graphic conversations about pornography. Thomas flatly denied Hill's allegations, saying during Senate testimony in October 1991, "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." Elite Daily reached out to representatives for Thomas for additional comment, but did not immediately hear back.

During the hearing, Hill, a black woman, endured grueling rounds of questioning by an all-white-male panel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. One line of questioning in particular grilled her on her reasons for coming forward.

"Now, in trying to determine whether you are telling falsehoods, or not, I've got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman?" asked Sen. Howell Heflin, a Democrat from Alabama, at the time. He continued, "Are you a zealot civil rights believer? ... Do you have a militant attitude relative to the area of civil rights? ... Do you have a martyr complex?" Each time, Hill calmly answered no.

Hill was asked to take a polygraph test, and though she passed, the results were not admitted into the Senate's hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman at the time, Joe Biden (yes, that Joe Biden), decided not to bring in additional witnesses and wrapped up the hearings, per NPR. Though he voted down the nominee, the confirmation passed the Senate on a vote of 52-48; Thomas is still serving on the bench to this day.

The case, which reverberated around the world, became a flashpoint in the societal conversation around sexism in politics and at large. It was understood to have provoked a backlash among women who were roused to action after seeing one of their own being denigrated at the hands of an exclusively male panel. The following year, in the 1992 midterm elections, a record number of women joined the ranks of Congress, garnering the name, "Year of The Woman."

The parallels are already lining up, and people are calling them out. Ford reportedly took and passed a polygraph test in early August, anticipating that her allegations might be questioned, per the Post.

But still, some GOP senators are already questioning her accusations. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, cast doubt on Ford's allegations, citing factual "gaps" in her account. "The problem is, Dr. Ford can't remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be," Cornyn said on Sept. 18, per The Washington Post.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday that while both accused and accuser would be given a chance to be heard, Ford's account "stands at odds with every other piece of the overwhelming positive testimony we have received about his character."

Following the announcement of the upcoming Kavanuagh-Ford hearing, op-eds abound with calls to avoid the Hill hearing's grave errors. Among those: one in The New York Times by Hill herself. She wrote in an op-ed on Sept. 18:

In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.

Hill, among others, has some suggestions for how the Senate should respond now, facing another opportunity to hear a case like this. "To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond," Hill wrote in Tuesday's op-ed. "A fair, neutral and well-thought-out course is the only way to approach Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh's forthcoming testimony."

Whereas the Hill hearing called forward 22 witnesses in the Hill hearing, though, the Senate is slated to hear from just Kavanaugh and Ford on Monday, something Senate Democrats have also called foul on.

And to see whether the Senate can provide such a fair hearing on Monday, the world will again be watching.

As of Sept. 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Thursday, Sept. 20, but after senators had called to delay the vote until after they'd heard from the accuser, the vote was canceled. As of writing, the committee's calendar shows no new vote date set. But however the Monday hearing shakes out, assuming Kavanaugh and Ford testify, it's pretty clear why the Supreme Court nomination process is giving people serious déjà vu. And like the 1991 hearing, the world will again be watching.