In criticizing the Senate for its handling of sexual-assault allegations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, professor Anita Hill said Wednesday in a talk at the University of Pennsylvania that not allowing additional witnesses to testify was "a disservice to the American public."
Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, accusing Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of workplace-based sexual harassment. Senators who questioned Hill were chastised by women's advocates who believed that the all-male panel was attempting to attack her character. At the time, polling indicated that the majority of Americans believed Thomas' denial and supported his confirmation.
"Kavanaugh," Hill said Wednesday, "doesn't enjoy those same numbers at all. So we are changing."
Before a sellout crowd of more than 1,200, Hill, 62, spoke in Irvine Auditorium alongside Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor seen as one of the nation's leading scholars on critical race theory, who also served as an adviser to Hill's legal team in 1991.
Now a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Hill was thrust back into the news cycle last month as Kavanaugh faced allegations of sexual misconduct prior to his confirmation.
Hill chided the Judiciary Committee for failing to give Christine Blasey Ford — a university professor who testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s while they were in high school — "time to prepare," in addition to not developing a procedure for handling allegations of misconduct against judicial nominees "when they had 27 years to figure out the process."
She said that in not questioning Ford themselves, Republican senators didn't use what Hill said were "blunt-force dog whistles" that she experienced in 1991, "but the deception of the pretense of fairness is almost as damning."
"Some of the same things went wrong in this hearing," she said, "as went wrong in the hearing in 1991."
Kavanaugh vehemently denied Ford's allegations in his own testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, implying Ford was part of a coordinated effort from the left to undermine him, and decrying the hearings as "a circus."
When Thomas defended himself 27 years ago against allegations brought forth by Hill, he characterized the Senate proceedings as a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks." He also said of the hearing: "This is a circus."
The full Senate voted Saturday to confirm Kavanaugh, 50-48, the second-slimmest confirmation margin in U.S. history.
Hill spoke in the same auditorium in April 1992, in one of her first public talks after the Thomas hearings.
"We must declare an end to power used to exclude and oppress," she said at the time.
Hill's testimony is seen as one of the events that gave way to the "Year of the Woman," the 1992 elections, when women ran for office in record-breaking numbers. This year has also been called the "Year of the Woman," as #MeToo, the sexual harassment-disclosure movement that started last fall, has brought down men of power in nearly every field.
Crenshaw said that though strides have been made in pushing for additional policies to protect women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, she's not convinced that the country has had "a sustained conversation about patriarchy."
"#MeToo is a moment, but it is a moment. '91 was a moment … The question is: Can we draw a new baseline understanding out of these moments that everyone gets?" she said. "The discursive capital that men have over women is the problem … I would like to imagine that at some point we're able to go in on that and we're able to call it out for what it is."
Hill and Crenshaw also lamented institutions that supported Kavanaugh (like the Federalist Society), as well as systems they see as apathetic to gender-based violence (like sports teams and fraternities).
"Structurally, Christine Blasey Ford had no support. None," Hill said. "There was no organization that was on the inside, or was connecting with the inside and the decision-makers, that was going to be able to help her."