Justice delayed

October 09, 1991

The Senate's decision to delay its vote on Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court may not enable him to clear his name of the sexual harassment charges that became public over the weekend. But as the tangled situation unraveled, it became obvious, as Sen. Albert Gore noted, that the nation would be better served if the Senate chose deliberation over expediency. Besides, by going ahead with the vote, Thomas' supporters risked either losing his nomination or sending him to the court with a cloud over his head that might never entirely vanish.

The Senate's work now will be difficult. As far as we know, the case against Thomas boils down to his word against that of Dr. Anita Hill, a law professor who worked for him both at the Education Department and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill now enjoys the security of a tenured faculty position. But when she worked for Thomas she was young, vulnerable and insecure about her professional future. That may or may not explain why she never brought accusations against Thomas before now. Some senators point to Hill's long silence as well as the fact that she continued a professional relationship with Thomas as strong evidence that her accusations are not true. But given the private context in which sexual harassment often occurs, and the stigma it can bring to the accuser as well as the accused, many people understand why Hill waited until now to bring up the matter publicly.

Still, the very murkiness of the charges and speculation illustrates how difficult it will be for senators to reach a satisfactory judgment. Already, both Hill and Thomas have suffered enormously, and the upcoming process will hold their personal lives up to even more ruthless scrutiny.

Nonetheless, senators owe it to the American people, and to the democratic process, to hear both sides of this story. Then they owe it to both Thomas and Hill to make their decision and put the matter to rest.

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