Anita Hill slams Senate Republicans for their 'racist, sexist mistreatment' of Ketanji Brown Jackson

Anita Hill slams Senate Republicans for their 'racist, sexist mistreatment' of Ketanji Brown Jackson

With three conservative Republican senators — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — having announced that they plan to join Democrats in voting for her, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is almost certain to become the first female African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Many other GOP senators, however, have been angrily railing against President Joe Biden’s nominee. And attorney Anita Hill calls them out in a biting op-ed published by the Washington Post on April 7.

Now 65, Hill (not be confused with Lutheran minister and gay/lesbian rights activist Anita C. Hill) was in her mid-thirties when she testified during Justice Clarence Thomas’ Senate confirmation hearings in 1991 — alleging that President George H.W. Bush’s nominee to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall had sexually harassed her. In her op-ed, Hill draws a parallel between how she was treated by U.S. senators in 1991 and how Jackson was treated by U.S. senators in 2022.

“The shameful spectacle of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson makes clear: The confirmation process is broken, and the panel must act to restore people’s faith in it,” Hill writes. “This is not simply about Jackson’s reputation, which was repeatedly smeared by Republican senators peddling false narratives about her supposed coddling of child pornographers and terrorists. It is about the legacy and future of the Senate and the Supreme Court itself.”

Hill, now a women’s studies professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, continues, “I know something about being mistreated by the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, I was subjected to attacks on my intelligence, truthfulness and even my sanity when I testified about my experience working for the nominee at the Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In a spectacularly low moment, senators sought out slanderous statements from my former students.”

During Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings, some of the worst Republican offenders included Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Certainly, a Supreme Court nominee should be asked some tough questions. But the questions that came from Cruz, Hawley and Blackburn were nothing more than sleazy, over-the-top theatrics — devoid of substance and obviously designed to fire up the MAGA base.

“When I heard predictions before the hearing that Republicans would offer little resistance to Jackson’s confirmation, I knew, from painful experience, that assessment was overly optimistic,” Hill explains. “Even so, I was shocked by the interrogation of Jackson, a nominee with stellar credentials and more judicial experience than any of the sitting justices when they were nominated. It was obvious that no matter how composed, respectful or brilliant her responses, her critics’ only goal was to discredit her. I appeared as a witness before the Committee and Jackson as the nominee, but in both situations, Republican senators demonstrated their willingness to employ racist and sexist attacks.”

Questions asked during Senate confirmation hearings, Hill emphasizes, need to be “relevant and well-founded.”

“Gotcha questions like how to define a woman, asked by Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R), have no place in the hearing room, and fall short of what should be expected of the Senate during its exercise of its advice and consent role,” Hill argues. “The same is true of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R) focus on how critical race theory is supposedly being taught in the private school on whose board Jackson sits. A confirmation hearing should be about learning how a person will judge, not how well she handles specious browbeating.”

Hill concludes her op-ed by urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to adopt strict guidelines for confirmation hearings — guidelines that discourage the type of theatrics Jackson was subjected to.

“Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees give the public their one chance to see nominees before they are confirmed to lifetime positions,” Hill writes. “They should be an opportunity for senators to assess nominees’ fitness, not to score political points. At their best, they should buttress citizens’ confidence in the High Court, not add to increasing perceptions of it as yet another political body. The Senate Judiciary Committee should take a hard look at reforming its proceedings and return the confirmation process back to something that it — and the country — can view with pride.”

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