Md. senators just said no Mikulski, Sarbanes decided early not to back Thomas.

October 16, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- One Maryland senator championed Anita Hill's cause while the other stayed on the sidelines. But there was never any doubt how they'd vote.

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, were among the 48 senators who voted against Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court.

Mikulski has vociferously defended Hill since Hill's allegations that Thomas sexually harassed her became public last week. Sarbanes, meanwhile, kept a low profile during the stormy hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Both senators had made up their minds about Thomas after the first round of hearings on his qualifications, before Hill spoke up.

While Sarbanes did not speak on the Senate floor before the vote, Mikulski lashed out angrily at "Republican senators who rushed into the role of Grand Inquisitor."

She accused Thomas' supporters of adopting a "strategy of smash and smear to obscure the facts and attack a woman who came forward."

And, coming to the end of an emotional speech, she appealed to men to speak out against sexual harassment -- and urged women not to despair.

"Don't lose heart, or we will lose ground. I know how you feel. I know how you feel the sting of all this, how you feel battered and bullied," Mikulski said. "Speak up to a friend. Now we've heard, 'Take good notes and when you speak, make sure you are not alone' because there will be few to protect you."

Mikulski is one of two women in the 100-member Senate. The other, Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., voted to confirm Thomas.

Sarbanes gave a brief interview before the vote, but was reluctant to discuss Hill's allegations and the committee's handling of them.

Asked whether he believed Hill, Sarbanes said that, since he had earlier announced his opposition to Thomas, "I didn't have to reach that judgment."

"She appeared to be credible," he added.

"I think that the effort to discredit her has not been worthy on the part of some," he said. "She has no motive here to assault Thomas. In fact, she has subjected herself to tremendous indignity by coming forth, which, of course, is what women say happens to them" in reporting sexual harassment.

"But you know," he continued, "the standard for Supreme Court justices, an appropriate standard, should have led people not to approve Thomas on the basis of the previous hearings."

In a speech a week ago, Sarbanes strongly criticized Thomas' performance as assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"His writings and speeches throughout this period of the 1980s reflected extreme and radical views which, if implemented in the Supreme Court's decisions, would, in my view, markedly transform the nature of our society," Sarbanes said.

Sarbanes joined Mikulski in urging the Senate to delay last week's scheduled vote on the nomination so that the Judiciary Committee could investigate Hill's "very serious charges."

He did not criticize the panel for its handling of Hill's allegations.

"I think it's been difficult for the Senate to handle this," Sarbanes said. "On the one hand, you have a desire for anonymity, and on the other, people need to know the accusations against them."

Sarbanes said if Hill's charges had been investigated in private by the committee,the media might have "alleged some sort of star chamber proceeding [was] going on."

Each senator has received a flood of calls from constituents who seemed evenly divided over whether Thomas should join the court. Sarbanes' offices in Washington and Maryland received more than 2,500 calls yesterday; Mikulski's offices counted more than 2,100 calls since Friday, 1,122 for Thomas and 1,025 against him.

After the vote, Mikulski said that she opposed Thomas "not only on the sex harassment charge but on other issues related to Judge Thomas' judicial competency and also people's views on how he would handle equal protection under the law, the right of privacy."

She termed the Hill-Thomas hearing a "public spectacle" but suggested some good came of it.

"So . . . these hearings, as difficult as they were for Professor Hill and Judge Thomas, [have] been an enormous national teach-in on the issue of sex harassment," she said.

She expressed hope that the Senate would now write tough language on sexual harassment in the workplace in pending civil rights legislation, which President Bush has threatened to veto.

Later, in an interview with CBS' Dan Rather, she said:

"What we hope will come out of this confirmation process, as wrenching as it has been for both parties involved, is that sexual harassment will now be treated seriously, and that we will not doubly victimize the victim, both by the event itself and the trauma of the proceedings."

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