Anita Hill, the Optimist: Overcoming the Undoing of Roe v. Wade Is Possible 'by Pulling Together,' Hill Says
Decades after she testified opposing the confirmation of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill remains ever hopeful in the power of speaking out and what can be accomplished when society says "we want something better. We want more."
Anita Hill is finally enjoying a different kind of spotlight.
More than 30 years after testifying before an all-white, all-male panel that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her for years, Hill on Monday received what would be the only standing ovation at the 26th annual Webby Awards when she accepted the Webby for Public Service and Activism, General Series (Podcasts).
The award went to “Because of Anita,” a series that delves into the impact of her historic 1991 testimony against Thomas. Hill’s testimony came decades before the #MeToo movement and discussions around women’s rights became accessible to all corners of the country thanks to the internet and the advent of social media.
“I think the best antidote is when somebody tries to get you down, you don’t give up and hang in there, and I’m really fortunate that’s possible for me,” Hill told Inside Edition Digital. “You know, it’s not always possible for victims and survivors to move forward and as one woman said, make lemonade out of lemons. So for me, being here, being engaged 30 years later is just beyond just what I thought would happen 30 years ago. There’s been 30, I’m looking for 35 and 40.”
In 1981, Hill became Thomas’ attorney-advisor when he was the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. She served as his assistant when he became the chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982. She left that job the following year.
After President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas, then a federal circuit judge, to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by retiring Associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a report of a private interview of Hill by the FBI was leaked to the media. At that point, the Senate hearings on Thomas’ confirmation to the nation’s highest court– a lifetime appointment– had been completed, but the hearings were reopened and Hill was called to publicly testify.
In October 1991, Hill testified that while working for Thomas, he made unwanted sexual advances towards her, initiated inappropriate conversations in regards to pornorgraphy and his own anatomy. Other women reportedly came forward with their own stories about Thomas’ alleged harassment, but they were never called to testify. Thomas denied the claims made by Hill, who was regarded with suspicion and contempt by some of the elected officials she testified before.
A New York Times/CBS poll conducted at the end of the hearings showed that the American people believed Thomas by a margin of 58% to 2%. Only 26% of women believed Hill, the poll showed. Thomas wound up being confirmed by a close vote of 52-48.
The Supreme Court looks quite different now than it did in 1991. This is the most diverse the nine justices have ever been. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latina to ever be confirmed to the Supreme Court under former President Barack Obama in 2009. Justice Elena Kagan was confirmed the following year.
In 2020, Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as President Trump's third nominee to the high court. She is the youngest woman to ever sit on its bench. And in April 2022 Ketanji Brown-Jackson made history as the first Black woman to be confirmed to the court. She will replace Justice Stephen Breyer once he retires.
“It really was just beyond,” Hill said of Brown-Jackson’s confirmation. “[It’s with] Thrill, excitement and hope, that I view Kentanji Brown-Jackson’s confirmation. I know that she will be in the minority on a lot of decisions, but that minority can be a powerful voice. And I think it’s an opportunity at this time to speak to the American public. Not just to other members of the courts or other members of the legal profession, but to speak directly to the American public about why what is happening in our courts is so important at this moment and I hope it’ll get people engaged.
“I know she’s gonna be fantastic,” she continued.
Hill’s optimism is informed by the company Brown-Jackson will find herself in when she sits on the bench.
“She has some wonderful colleagues like Justice Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor has really started to be very active and vocal in her opinions,” she said. “So they may not be majority opinions, but what you have to remember and what lawyers always remember, is minority opinions can become the majority opinion in time.”
Brown-Jackson is preparing to join the Supreme Court at a time where the 6-3 conservative majority appears ready to overturn two landmark decisions– 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey– that established and reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.
An initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito obtained by Politico earlier this month and later confirmed to be authentic by Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito rejects both decisions’ legal reasoning, writing, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
“It’s been a long-term strategy, and it's been executed well,” Hill said of the decision. “That's the short answer.”
The court’s decision will not be finalized until it is published, which is expected to happen in the next two months, Politico reported. The votes currently in place are not set in stone and Justices sometimes do change their votes ahead of a decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts called the leak a betrayal of the confidences and an egregious breach of trust. He has directed the marshal of the court to investigate its source.
But a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News in April showed a majority of Americans say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade. Fifty-four percent of Americans think the 1973 Roe decision should be upheld while 28% believe it should be overturned, a roughly 2-to-1 margin.
Many in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion were outraged by the leaked opinion and took to the streets to protest the undoing of progress. Such grassroots movements leave Hill ever hopeful “that we can overcome decisions, like the one that was leaked, by pulling together as a culture, as a society, and say we want something better. We want more,” Hill told Inside Edition Digital.
After receiving a standing ovation, Hill accepted her Webby. Confined by the ceremony’s five-word-speech limits, she cut straight to the chase and implored the audience to do what she’s fought for for decades and appears poised to energetically continue to do.
“Take equality seriously,” she said, “For real.”
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