Doubting Thomas

October 10, 1991|By Newsday

POSTPONING the vote on his nomination was the most responsible action the Senate has taken in the wake of the charge of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. Up to then, law professor Anita Hill's charge that the Supreme Court nominee made lewd and intimidating comments to her when she worked for him in two different federal jobs had been handled nearly as unprofessionally as Thomas allegedly acted.

Democratic leaders, shocked at the turmoil that their failure to confront Hill's charge provoked, maneuvered all day to block the vote. Thomas and his GOP supporters had finally to cry uncle and agree to delay the vote.

Now it's time for the Senate to redeem itself. The first step is to commit to a full-scale investigation of the matter. There is at least one corroborating witness for Hill, who should be put on the record. And if Sen. John Danforth was able to produce phone logs from Thomas' tenure at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that purport to show Hill phoned him several times after leaving the agency, then a fuller investigation might shed more light on the relationship between the two. Such scrutiny will be painful for both. But it has become necessary.

This type of investigation should have been undertaken by the Senate Judiciary Committee when it learned a month ago of Hill's charges. There is no explanation for the committee's failure. It appears that the panel members -- all older men -- just didn't get it. Unable to empathize with a young woman's fears and anxieties, they collectively gave her the back of their hands.

Ultimately, the issue is credibility. Tuesday, Thomas released a sworn statement in which he "totally and unequivocally" denied "misconduct of any kind" toward Hill. Will such a blanket denial hold up under scrutiny? If not, then Thomas' credibility -- already strained from his equivocation during his confirmation hearings -- will be fatally undermined.

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