No joy in Thomas victory Bitterness in wake of vote Court designate Thomas calls for healing

October 16, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff Knight-Ridder contributed to this story.

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of victory, Clarence Thomas' staunchest Senate ally couldn't even smile.

"There is no joy in these proceedings and no matter how the vote turns out, no joy is possible," Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., said last evening shortly before the Senate voted 52-48 to send Thomas to the Supreme Court.

The vote ended one of the Senate's most bitter battles but left gaping wounds and an uncertain sense of accomplishment. Thomas' statement after the vote reflected that.

Standing in the rain outside his Virginia home, he said:

"I think that no matter how difficult or how painful the process has been . . . this is a time for healing in our country, that we have to put these things behind us, that we have to go forward, and that we have to begin to look for ways to solve problems that I think became apparent through this process, and certainly have been apparent in our country for some time."

President Bush called Thomas to congratulate him. "You did a fine job," Bush said. "You were a wonderful inspiration and you had the overwhelming support of the American people. You have a lifetime of service to your country ahead. Well done."

In Oklahoma, Anita Hill, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment, said: "What I hope is that none of this will deter others from coming forward. This is an important issue and the dialogue will not stop here."

At 43, Thomas is the youngest member of the court and its first black conservative. He succeeds a black liberal, Thurgood Marshall, pushing the nine-member court more to the right. Thomas was confirmed on the smallest margin of approval given a nominee since Lucius Q.C. Lamar was approved 32-to-28 in 1888.

Forty-one Republicans and 11 Democrats voted for Thomas, a federal appeals court judge. Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, voted against him.

Thomas survived allegations by Hill, a law professor, that he harassed her sexually in the early 1980s while she worked for him at the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The allegations came to light only after the Judiciary Committee held a lengthy hearing on his qualifications and deadlocked 7-7 on his nomination. When news reports revealed that the committee had received a confidential statement from Hill but did not have her testify, an embarrassed Senate postponed its vote on Thomas last week and the committee hastily convened a public hearing.

Hill's graphic descriptions of Thomas' alleged remarks and behavior shocked the Senate and the public, which watched in fascination and horror as the former colleagues and their supporting witnesses fought to a draw early Monday morning over who was telling the truth.

All the back-and-forth arguments were replayed yesterday in more than seven hours of emotional and often angry debate before the vote.

"The same people who gave us the worst of racial stereotypes in political campaigns -- the Willie Horton ad -- have now smeared Anita Hill," Mikulski said in a fiery attack on the White House and committee Republicans who attacked Hill's story.

One of those Republicans, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, stood by his claim that Hill lied to the committee and said like the former prosecutor he is: "I come to the judgment that the weight of the evidence supports Judge Thomas."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., sought a silver lining at one )) point, saying, "Overnight, as on perhaps no other issue in our history, the entire country made a giant leap of understanding about sexual harassment, that offensive conduct will never be treated lightly again."

Kennedy also lashed out at Specter, saying, "The way Professor Hill was treated was shameful."

Specter responded, "We do not need characterizations like 'shame' in this chamber from the senator from Massachusetts. The women of America should not listen to the senator from Massachusetts, who is trying to arouse passions on the generalized subjects of sexual harassment."

Defending Specter, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said, "The fact of the matter is, anyone who believes that, I know a bridge up in Massachusetts that I'll be happy to sell to them -- that's what happened to Sen. Kennedy."

Hatch quickly apologized and said he misspoke in what seemed a reference to the 1969 accident in which a young woman riding in a car driven by Kennedy drowned after the car went off a bridge leading to Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts.

Though many senators said they couldn't tell who was lying, Hill or Thomas, they said they'd give the accused the benefit of the doubt.

The judiciary committee chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Dela., had no doubts, and voted against Thomas -- as he had planned before Hill's allegations became public.

He cautioned senators to vote on the basis of the entire record of the hearings, not just the sexual allegations. "This is a vote about the future America -- not just about Clarence Thomas' reputation."

But he acknowledged that the outcome of the vote would be construed as a test of the credibility of Thomas and Hill.

Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., worried that Thomas would go to the court "under a cloud of suspicion he can never fully escape."

Like some other senators, she supported Thomas without attacking Hill.

"I see no evidence in the record before us to support any claim that Professor Hill is mentally unstable, is inclined to wild fantasy, or is part of a decade-long conspiracy to get Clarence Thomas," Kassebaum said.

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