ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Allegations of sexual misconduct against a Supreme Court nominee have happened before. Twenty-seven years ago, another college professor, Anita Hill, accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And while there are some similarities between the current allegations against Brett Kavanaugh and those against Thomas, there are also some key differences. Our own Nina Totenberg broke the Anita Hill story and is here with us now to discuss the parallels with today. Hi, Nina.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: We just heard from Scott Detrow about the latest. What are you hearing from your reporting on where this nomination is going and whether people think Kavanaugh will still be confirmed?
TOTENBERG: It's really a moving target, but it's not - and you really can't tell. It's not like 27 years ago. Back then, there were two women in the United States Senate and none on the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats back then were not exactly anxious to probe these allegations. Joe Biden was then the chairman and didn't pursue Anita Hill's allegation when she first reached out to the committee. And after my story broke, including a detailed interview with her, Republicans really had one objective - to discredit Anita Hill.
The Democrats were caught flat-footed, and they really didn't help much. They listened to the charges of erotomania and were pretty silent. And they didn't call three other women with corroborating information. And that, by the way, is a decision that Joe Biden, the chairman of the committee - then the chairman of the committee - has since publicly regretted. Now contrast that with today. There are 23 women senators, not two. And there are four on the Judiciary Committee, all Democrats. The #MeToo movement is in its ascendancy, and even the Republicans don't want to look insensitive and incurious.
SHAPIRO: You've reported that in the beginning Anita Hill did not want to go public either. Why not?
TOTENBERG: You know, it's not hard to understand. If you think you have information that's disqualifying for someone nominated for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, especially today with all of the social media in the world and certainly back then, too, why would you want to subject yourself to the examination, the invective, all of that? Dr. Ford told the Post that when the details of her story started to leak and the hunt was on for this unnamed person, she was losing all the privacy that she wanted to protect anyway. And she wanted to control the situation.
SHAPIRO: Are these the only cases of eleventh-hour information popping up in a Supreme Court confirmation battle?
TOTENBERG: You know, it's not uncommon for new information to surface. And what usually happens, unless - against nominations is that the FBI investigates first, then the committee investigators take a crack. And often there are sworn interviews that take place of the nominee and others behind closed doors. And if they - if it turns out to be bad, you never hear about it. The nominee withdraws. If it's OK, you never hear about it. And the nominee's confirmed.
SHAPIRO: Through her attorney, Christine Blasey Ford has said she would be willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would obviously be high stakes and high drama. We have seen that before. How similar or different is this compared to the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas scandal?
TOTENBERG: If I had to bet, I'd bet on confirmation. But it could get uglier and probably will, and there's an election coming up in eight weeks.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thanks, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
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