Personal Attacks on Judicial Nominees Can End, Thomas Defender Says

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - The character assassination of judicial nominees who don't fit the ideological mold of the political class in Washington, D.C., could end if enough Americans expressed their opposition to such personal attacks, said former Sen. John Danforth in an exclusive interview with Cybercast News Service.

Danforth, a Republican from Missouri, has been a long-time friend and mentor of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and it was Danforth who helped Thomas make it through his difficult Senate confirmation hearings in 1991.

The extreme, libertine view about the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the court, making abortion legal nationwide up through the time of delivery, is what fueled the personal attacks on Thomas, said Danforth.

In his new book, "My Grandfather's Son, A Memoir" Thomas confirms much of Danforth's analysis. "Most of my opponents on the Judiciary Committee cared about only one thing: How would I rule on abortion rights?" writes Thomas.

The mere possibility that he might vote to either reverse or "water-down" Roe v. Wade was enough to earn the ire of potent special interest groups and leading figures on the judiciary committee, he said.

Further, the U.S. Senate takes a "results-oriented approach" to the Supreme Court, said Danforth, and this works against independent thinkers such as Thomas who are open to ideas that may be out of favor with liberal or politically correct opinion.

"There is this idea that says if you don't agree with someone, you then destroy him as a person -- and this was evident during the Thomas hearings," said Danforth. "Why should African-Americans be expected to hew to one particular ideology, why shouldn't they have as much freedom to express different viewpoints as anyone else?"

Once it became evident that Thomas would win confirmation, the opposition "pulled Anita Hill out of the pan" in a last ditch effort to derail the process, Danforth said.

The Judiciary Committee ultimately sent the nomination to the full Senate without an official recommendation one way or the other. Thomas was confirmed, 52-48, by the Senate on Oct. 15, 1991.

"I'm not his critic or his champion with regard to his judicial opinions," Danforth said.

"Most of them I haven't read -- that's not my role. He's my friend no matter what he does on the court and I can tell you his reputation is excellent. The people who are so committed to their ideology that they are willing to destroy another person are people who don't know him," he added.

The media critics who describe Thomas as an angry, brooding person are offering up an image that does not square with reality, Danforth told Cybercast News Service. "Go to the Supreme Court and talk to the people who work there, and you will find he's the most popular person in the building."

A Nexis search for news media articles describing Thomas as being either angry or bitter in the past month, when his memoirs were released, pulled up more than 200 results.

In his book, Thomas does address the sexual harassment charges that were raised during his confirmation hearings. He comments on how the news media covered the controversy at the time.

"I was struck by the glaring difference in the way the media treated Anita and me," he wrote. "Whereas it was taken for granted that whatever she said had to be true, it was no less automatically assumed that anything I might say in my defense would be untrue."

Anita Hill testified against Thomas on Oct. 11, 1991.

She recently published an editorial in The New York Times that took issue with several segments of Thomas's book. She claimed the Supreme Court justice offered up "a litany of unsubstantiated representations and outright smears" at her expense in his memoirs.

Moreover, she told readers that Thomas' arguments are riddled with "blatant inconsistencies."

Although Hill "stands by her testimony," that testimony has been called into question by other female employees who worked with her and with Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

J.C. Alvarez, a Chicago businesswoman, who worked as a special assistant to Thomas at the EEOC for four years, testified on his behalf. She told senators that Hill had falsely presented herself as a "meek, innocent, shy Baptist girl."

"I don't know who she was trying to kid," Alvarez said. "Because the Anita Hill that I knew and worked with was nothing like that. She was a very hard, tough woman. She was opinionated. She was arrogant. She was a relentless debater.

"And she was the kind of woman who always made you feel like she was not going to be messed with, like she was not going to take anything from anyone. She was aloof. She always acted as if she was a little bit superior to everyone, a little holier than thou," Alvarez said.

"I can recall at the time that she had a view of herself and her abilities that did not seem to be based in reality," she added.

Other witnesses who vouched for Thomas also described their work experience in terms that sharply contrasted with Hill's account of events.

Nancy Fitch, who was a special assistant historian to Thomas for seven years at the EEOC, described her former employer as a person of "great integrity" who was "morally upstanding" and an "exemplary boss."

Reforming the confirmation process

The judicial confirmation process assumed a more partisan and ideological tone beginning with President Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, Illya Shapiro, a senior fellow with the Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, told Cybercast News Service.

While he does not object to senators voting against a nominee on ideological grounds, Shapiro has a jaundiced view of the filibuster rule being used as a tool to block full consideration.

"I think it's problematic when nominees have more than enough votes in the Senate to be confirmed, and yet they are prevented from even reaching the Senate floor or indeed getting out of committee," he said. "I think this is an abuse of congressional power over the judiciary."

The ideological litmus tests that became ascendant with the Bork case and continued with Thomas remain evident today, Shapiro said. Moreover, he added, these tests are now being applied to other parts of the federal judiciary where procedural rules are used to block nominations.

At one time, Danforth proposed a procedural change to the confirmation process that would allow nominees to have legal counsel and to have the ability to question any lead accusers in advance of a hearing.

The proposal died a quick death in the Senate, he said. However, he now believes the best hope for reform and renewal lies with the American people.

"The real answer comes from the inherent fairness of the American people and their revulsion toward the kind of attacks that were done to Clarence Thomas," Danforth said.

"Personal attacks are wrong no matter who is doing it. I'm afraid if Hillary [Clinton] is the next president, we are going to see Republicans say that 'you set the standard, turnabout is fair play.' But it's wrong to do this regardless of where it's coming from, because human beings are being damaged," he added.

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