As It Happens

Kavanaugh allegations conjure memories of Anita Hill saga for former congresswoman

With Christine Blasey Ford invited to testify at Brett Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearings, former congresswoman Pat Schroeder says it's déjà vu, all over again.

'There's a lot of deja-vu in all of this,' says Pat Schroeder

Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Louise Slaughter, former senator Barbara Mikulski, Anita Hill, former representative Pat Schroeder and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16, 2017. (The Washington Post/Getty Images)

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With Christine Blasey Ford invited to testify at Brett Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearings, former congresswoman Pat Schroeder says it's déjà vu, all over again. 

Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, alleges Kavanaugh pinned her down at a high school party in 1982, held his hand over her mouth and tried to strip off her clothes. Kavanaugh has called the allegations "completely false."

This comes 27 years after Anita Hill testified at the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, alleging sexual harassment. 

Schroeder was among the group of congresswomen who demanded in 1991 the Senate judiciary committee hear from Hill. 

She spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about what's changed — and what hasn't — since then. 

Does this feel like a re-run of Anita Hill's story 27 years ago?

Well, there's a lot of déjà vu in all of this, I must say. 

It seems very similar except, because of the Anita Hill experience, I think even the senators who are slow learners focus on the fact they better not say she can't even show up.

How difficult was it to get Anita Hill before that committee?

It was almost impossible. A group of us — the congresswomen — walked over because every Tuesday, I believe it was, all the Democratic senators had lunch together.

And we went over and knocked on the door to protest and say that she should be allowed to testify, and we were told that they didn't let strangers into the lunch. 

So we nicely told them we had about 15 television cameras following us, if they'd like to explain how we're strangers.

The majority leader then said, "No, no. Come back to my office at 2 o'clock and we'll talk."

So we went back and we talked to him and he did lean on the [committee] chairman, who was then Joe Biden, and said, "You have to let this woman testify. You've got to re-open the hearing."

And they just absolutely ravaged Anita. It was a very ugly show. 

Even the ones that I thought were my heroes turned into real chumps. They kind of sat there and let many of the Republicans just tear her apart.

It was a very, very unpleasant thing. 

And they voted for [Thomas] anyway.

Why did they not believe her?

To me, it was mind-boggling.

Here was this incredibly beautiful and talented African-American woman who had grown up in a very conservative home. Her parents had come, were sitting behind her. They had been Baptists. They had been really straight arrows.

I think if I had been an African-American, I would have really wondered about what kind of justice there was for African-Americans in the Senate. Obviously, women were wondering the same thing.

University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill testifies before the Senate judiciary committee on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in this Oct. 11, 1991, photo. (John Duricka/Associated Press)

At the time, one of the senators, Orrin Hatch, said that ... Anita Hill was just confused, that she didn't know what she was talking about. The same senator is saying now the same thing about Christine Blasey Ford.

So how much has changed in 27 years?

Obviously Orrin Hatch is still there, and he apparently hasn't learned very much.

But they also have a president they've all been following 24/7, and it's a president whose response to "What do you do when a woman accuses you of something?" he says, deny, deny, deny and attack her. Sue her. Do whatever.

So that seems to be the mantra of that side of the aisle in the Senate.

On the other hand, there are some that are breaking away. And certainly on the Democratic side, we have especially two women on the committee that were both prosecutors and prosecuted these kinds of sexual cases. And my guess is they are really going to tear into these guys. There isn't going to be silence when they say things like that out loud here.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied allegations of sexual assault. (Reuters)

And what is it going to be like for Christine Blasey Ford, in your view?

Well, bless her heart. It's got to be awful.

Watching Anita Hill, I kept thinking, "Oh my, maybe we made such a mistake talking her into going forward." 

And she paid for it. I mean, she ended up having to leave Oklahoma and go somewhere else. And her whole life, she was tainted by that. It was awful.

So let's hope that that won't happen.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah expressed doubts about the allegations of both Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

She is going to be attacked for inconsistencies, for things that she can't remember, details that she's already said that she doesn't remember. The address, she doesn't remember exactly where all this happened. But she remembers vivid details about the allegations of being held down, groped, clothes nearly torn off, hand over the mouth. 

For some people listening to this, she will be plausible, because many people have heard these stories before. But she will not be plausible for others who will say, well, those inconsistencies indicate she doesn't know the story.

So what do you think?

You wouldn't remember the address and what colour your outfit was or whatever. I mean, this is a terrifying thing. It's almost like having PTSD and something out of a warzone.

So that's what you're going to remember — the specifics, not necessarily all the rest of it.

What do you make of the idea that perhaps we'll see Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, two men both accused of of sexual misconduct, sitting in the Supreme Court of the United States?

To me, me it's very, very depressing, obviously, and let's hope that does not happen.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.