Scandalback Saturday hearkens once more to the thrilling days of 1991, when I was still striving toward my goal of being the world's oldest college cartoonist.
In September of 1991, the Senate held confirmation hearings on President George H.W. Bush's nomination to the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall. (That was three whole months after Thomas's nomination, believe it or not!) Where Civil Rights icon Marshall was a consistent liberal on the court, Thomas had a staunch conservative record during his career in United States Department of Education, later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and then during his 16 months as a federal judge.
Civil rights groups opposed him on the basis of his record against affirmative action; women's rights groups suspected that he was against abortion rights. At the hearings, he stubbornly refused to discuss his views on the latter subject.
The congressmen in that cartoon are Democrat Senators Howell Heflin of Alabama, Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Paul Simon of Illinois, and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. Most cartoonists at the time drew Ted Kennedy and/or Joe Biden to represent the committee, but I wanted to include my home state Senator whose place was at the end of the table.
When Anita Hill, who had worked with Thomas in the Education Department and the EEOC, came forward to accuse Thomas of sexual harassment, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee summoned her to one of the most bizarre hearings ever held in Congress. On live TV and radio, the nation heard such lurid details as: "Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, 'Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'" The hearings were a national obsession.
Thomas scolded the Committee, calling of the hearings "a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."
Anita Hill's treatment by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee was no better, caricaturing her as a vengeful, delusional spurned hussy who concocted her story ten years after the alleged event.
The Senate narrowly voted, 52 to 48, to confirm Thomas's nomination on October 15. 11 Democrats crossed party lines to confirm, while two Republicans crossed over to vote nay.
Meanwhile, Thomas's chief sponsor in the Senate, Missouri Republican John Danforth, was also a prominent supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Citing opposition to racial quotas in the workplace, Bush had vetoed a stronger Civil Rights bill the year before — no other president has ever vetoed a Civil Rights bill successfully.