WASHINGTON -- Prominent feminists reacted in triumph and conservatives in dismay to the Senate's one-week delay in voting on Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court.
"Senators had a very clear message from the women in their constituencies that Anita Hill's charges have to be taken very seriously," said National Organization for Women executive vice president Patricia Ireland. The Oklahoma law professor's sexual harassment allegations against Thomas, her former boss, "struck a responsive chord among all those women out there who face harassment in school, on the job and in the streets," Ireland said.
The White House took an even-tempered approach to the news. Presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said in a written statement, "We believe that Judge Thomas is an excellent candidate for the Supreme Court who should be confirmed at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15. We will work with the [Judiciary] committee and the full Senate to bring this matter to a vote. Judge Thomas is an outstanding individual who has demonstrated his honesty and integrity throughout his life."
The postponement, Ireland said, would give Thomas' opponents time to "pressure" the Senate Judiciary Committee to disclose any unreleased allegations against Thomas the committee may have received from other sources. "What else do they know that they haven't told us?" she demanded.
"The Senate," said Judith Lichtman, who heads the Women's Legal Defense Fund, "responded to an unprecedented outpouring of concern from women nationwide who were stunned by the allegations that a Supreme Court nominee may (( have sexually harassed his special assistant." Lichtman and other leaders of women's rights organizations urged a full, open hearing on Hill's story.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, did not view the Senate's action as a complete victory for the anti-Thomas forces. "I'm worried because I think there should not be an artificial time limit on such serious charges. I don't know why they have such an all-fired rush all the time."
Meanwhile, public support for Thomas' nomination dropped from 63 percent three weeks ago to 50 percent after the Senate delayed its confirmation vote, an ABC News-Washington Post poll found.
In the poll conducted last night, there was little difference in response between men and women.
Thomas' confirmation was supported by 54 percent of men and 47 percent of women; it was opposed by 24 percent of men and 26 percent of women.
Sixty-three percent of respondents said if the former aide's allegations are substantiated, that would be sufficient reason to reject the nomination.
The survey was based on random telephone interviews following the evening TV news with 524 adults across the United States. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.