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
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
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
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
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
fully qualified to work in the
government. No doubt. But was she a
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
Next, Ms Hill complains that Thomas insists that she was
asked to leave her law firm, objecting that, on the
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
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.
 Thomas, Clarence, 2007: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir. ISBN-10: 0060565551. Harper: http://www.amazon.com/My-Grandfathers-Son-Clarence-Thomas/dp/0060565551/.
 Hill, Anita, October 2 2007: The smear this time. The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/02/opinion/02hill.html.
 Sowell, Thomas, October 10 2007: Clarence Thomas, Part II. Jewish World Review: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell101007.php3.