SALT LAKE CITY — Anita Hill, whose sexual harassment allegations against then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991 made her a national figure, says the same things are at stake 27 years later as the Senate considers Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the high court.
"For me, the integrity of the court was the issue," Hill said at the University of Utah on Wednesday.
Hill, then a University of Oklahoma law professor, said she offered her evidence of Thomas' character and "lack of fitness" for the lifetime appointment knowing he would hear sexual harassment cases as a justice.
"The matter was not one of my civil rights. Access to equal justice for all was what was at stake in 1991 and it is what is at stake today," she said, to rousing applause.
Hill's speech came on the eve of Christine Blasey Ford testifying Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers in 1982. Two other women have accused the appellate court judge of sexual misconduct, but were not called to testify.
The Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center at the U. invited Hill, a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University, to give the 2018 Tanner Lecture on Human Values.
Hill, 62, spoke and answered questions from the standing-room only audience of more than 600 for just over an hour. She also heads the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, created to address sexual abuse and harassment in the media and entertainment industries.
Hill found herself in a similar situation to Ford 27 years ago, though she declined to offer any advice for Ford or compare their experiences, saying it is unfair and inappropriate.
"Her story is her story, and we have to accept that," she said.
In 1991, Hill accused Thomas of sexually harassing her in two government jobs. She testified before the Judiciary Committee for eight hours before the panel, and ultimately the full Senate, confirmed Thomas.
Hill said the committee wasn't really interested in what she had to say, but in affirming what they had already set out to do.
"They relied on misogynist tropes to support their position," she said, naming Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among those senators, drawing a chorus of boos from the crowd.
"He will be gone soon, I hear," Hill said, turning the boos to cheers.
The retiring Hatch served as Republicans' designated questioner in the Thomas hearings. He told the Deseret News at the time that he had no doubt special interest groups coached Hill and that she lied about sexual harassment by Thomas.
Hatch has again played a prominent role in the latest confirmation hearings. He has said Ford is "mistaken" about what happened and he believes Kavanaugh is "a very strong, decent man."
Hill said she doesn't think Thursday's hearing will be fair because there has been no investigation and the Republican-controlled committee isn't calling any eyewitnesses or expert witnesses.
GOP senators are setting the hearing up to be a he said, she said situation where the truth can't be known, Hill said, calling that a "real mockery."
Senators, she said, don't know about every issue, "and unfortunately, this is one they resist being educated on."
Hill also said no judge in a court of law would require a witness in a sexual assault case to testify on a week's notice as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee chairman, has done with Ford.
"No judge would allow it," she said. "But here we have a judge demanding it, and not only is that judge, Mr. Grassley, demanding it as a judge, but he is also the jury, a member of the jury."
To set up the hearing the way the committee has does a disservice to Ford, Kavanaugh and to the American people "who want to know how to respond to these situations."
Still, she told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that whatever happens, the Kavanaugh case should not be viewed as a referendum on the #MeToo movement, or a barometer of its success.
"A lot is different now," Hill said of the year since the launch of the movement following scandalous revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein. "A number of powerful men have been held accountable. I don't think any one episode is going to define a whole movement."
Besides, she told the Associated Press, "Remember, #MeToo is about raising awareness. Just because the Senate's awareness hasn't been raised, doesn't mean that the rest of us haven't evolved and learned."
On Sunday, "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver aired part of an interview he did with Hill in July in which he asked her if a confirmation hearing now would take on the same tone as the one in which she testified 27 years ago.
Hill said she wasn't sure there would be a hearing today.
"I think that a nominee would not make it. I think that now we're gonna be vetting people to see if some of these issues are in their past, so I'm not sure we would even get to a hearing," she said. "If there were a hearing and we did get to that, I think absolutely, the tone would be different."
In her speech, Hill said many people don't think deeply about the Kavanaugh situation, seeing it his word against hers.31 comments on this story
"But think about that this nominee has the backing of the executive and the Senate. This nominee has been put out and a story told to us as a country, and it is story of, as somebody said, a 'pristine life well lived and a brilliant jurist,'" she said.
Those stories trigger respectability and acceptability that "someone coming in from nowhere is ever going to be able to replicate in our minds," Hill said. People, she said, need to be more conscious about how they value power and people in power, and how that disadvantages anyone who challenges it.