Professor Hill's Too-Clever Op-Ed
Lee Phillips —  October 16, 2007
My theory is that Clarence's problem arose precisely because he did not sexually harass Anita Hill.

Anita Hill has replied to Justice Clarence Thomas' recent book [1] in an op-ed recently published in the New York Times [2].

I remember the depressing, televised confirmation hearings that preceded Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court. What I mostly remember was being perplexed at the attitude of some of my friends, who assumed that Hill was telling the truth, and therefore that Thomas was lying when he denied her accusations of harassment in their workplace. When I objected that surely we don't know whose account was reliable, the most frequent initial counter was Why would she lie?. I hope the logical problem with that line of argument is obvious to my readers.

We still don't know who was telling the truth, or whether Thomas Sowell's theory is correct, and no definitive evidence has surfaced since 1991.1) Of course Thomas claims that his denials are truthful, and Hill says, in her op-ed, that I stand by my testimony. But there is something strange about Hill's use of language and her treatment of details in the rest of the article:

Hill complains that Thomas mentions others' descriptions of her as a 'combative left-winger' who was 'touchy' and prone to overreacting to 'slights'. She claims that A number of independent authors have shown those attacks to be baseless. But how can you show a subjective impression to be baseless? You can disagree with it and offer evidence to support your own subjective impression, but that's about all. At the end of this paragraph Hill states that It's no longer my word against his, but surely it still is.

Hill is then offended that Thomas says that she was a mediocre employee who had a job in the federal government only because he had 'given it' to me, objecting that, on the contrary, she graduated from Yale and passed the D.C. bar exam, and therefore was fully qualified to work in the government. No doubt. But was she a mediocre employee of the government or of the law firm from where she was hired? And either way, those qualifications do not contradict the accusation of mediocrity, if my personal experience is any guide.

Next, Ms Hill complains that Thomas insists that she was asked to leave her law firm, objecting that, on the contrary, she was an associate in good standing in the firm. But she does not actually deny that she was asked to leave, and the two facts are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Next there follows a paragraph concerning the question of whether Professor Hill should properly be described as a demure, religious, conservative person. I think she wants the answer to the question to be yes, and is disturbed that Justice Thomas has raised some doubts about that.

Those are all the details of the affair that Professor Hill treats in her article. The rest of it consists of general sentiments to the effect that harassment is bad, etc; things that most people would agree with. What I find interesting about the piece is how she carefully arranges her words to give the reader certain impressions — that she denies having been asked to leave her law firm, for example — while being careful not to make the explicit claim. Why be so clever, so lawyerly? And why have so much contempt for the reader as to assume that the technique will not be, after all, pretty obvious?

I still don't know who was telling the truth in 1991, but after reading this I find myself leaning toward the Justice and away from the Professor.


[1] Thomas, Clarence, 2007: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir. ISBN-10: 0060565551. Harper:

[2] Hill, Anita, October 2 2007: The smear this time. The New York Times:

[3] Sowell, Thomas, October 10 2007: Clarence Thomas, Part II. Jewish World Review:

1) Although, if you really feel a need to come down on one side or the other, please read Sowell's article [3] first.