No Star Chamber, No Witch Hunt

October 11, 1991

The American Civil Liberties Union has urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to use the special hearings on Judge Clarence Thomas "to clarify the nature of sex harassment, shed light as to how and why its victims react to it as they do and advance the public's understanding of this complex yet widespread phenomenon."

Today's hearing is not the time or place for that. This is a hearing whose sole purpose is to answer if possible this question: Did Judge Thomas behave in an impermissible way toward Professor Anita Hill, when he was her superior in government? His career and hers both may be at stake. They and the senators who will question them should not have to bear the additional burden of trying to conduct a national seminar on a serious social problem.

The Judiciary Committee has been criticized for not bringing the Hill charges out in the open earlier. But the committee had no choice, if, as Chairman Joe Biden says, Professor Hill refused to allow her name and accusations to be made public. At one time she apparently even wanted her charges to be anonymous. The star chamber, in which the accused is tried in secret, is un-American.

So is the witch hunt, in which sensational accusation is by itself taken as proof of guilt. The Judiciary Committee must avoid turning this hearing into something like that. Committee members may have already made up their minds about whether to vote to confirm Judge Thomas for the Supreme Court, but they must not have already made up their minds about whether to believe his version of the events in question -- or hers.

Chairman Biden was correct to assign the principal responsibility for questioning the witnesses to only a few senators. This is no time for rambling and repetition. Nor for playing to the public with speeches and questions designed to make points rather than elicit the truth -- as many senators resorted to in the first hearings.

The ACLU is right that there needs to be a public education campaign about sexual harassment. Someday soon congressional committees ought to hold full scale hearings on the subject. Given the nature of the topic, these should be committees with women and men members.

Another thing that needs to be investigated soon is how $H Professor Hill was persuaded to give an affidavit against Judge Thomas and how a secret FBI report on the matter was made public. Several journalistic accounts suggest that senatorial aides worked with special interest groups to subvert the desires of Professor Hill, the Judiciary Committee and individual

senators. What was done appears to be against the law and against Senate rules. Both the Justice Department and the Senate have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this.

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