MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A confirmation battle is underway for the president's handpicked nominee for the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee has called a witness to testify under oath, a witness alleging sexual misconduct on the part of that nominee.
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ANITA HILL: My name is Anita F. Hill, and I am a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma.
KELLY: Different witness, different time, different nominee. Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and testified under oath. Thomas called the proceedings a circus and was later confirmed to the court. Well, we reached out to Anita Hill to get her thoughts on the hearing scheduled to unfold Thursday before the same Senate committee. This time, the Judiciary Committee will be questioning the nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault when they were both in high school.
Anita Hill, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
HILL: Thank you for inviting me on.
KELLY: You have written an op-ed that just ran in The New York Times. The headline was "How To Get The Kavanaugh Hearings Right." And you opened with this sentence. I'll quote you. "There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do it better." Like what?
HILL: To do it better, one, we'd have to have a fair process. And a fair process starts with and becomes framed by a real investigation.
KELLY: I mean, we should note the Senate says that their investigators have looked into all these claims and denials. You're saying there needs to be more. There needs to be - what? - an FBI investigation for this to amount to more than a he-said, she-said forum.
HILL: I'm not quite sure what the qualifications of the Senate for investigating the crimes are. What I do know is that we need a neutral body. It is only that kind of a situation if it's set up as that kind of a situation. In a real hearing and a real investigation, other witnesses would be called, including witnesses who could corroborate, witnesses who could explain the context of the experiences of Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh during that period in their lives as well as experts on sexual harassment and sexual assault.
KELLY: So if I hear you correctly, it sounds as though you are not persuaded that the hearing as it is currently scheduled to unfold on Thursday can provide a fair and thorough accounting of what may or may not have happened 36 years ago.
HILL: It cannot be fair and thorough. They cannot provide not only the senators with enough information to make - reach a reasonable conclusion, but it can't provide the public with the kind of information that it will need to understand the significance of these charges as well as the likelihood that this occurred in the way that Dr. Blasey Ford has described it.
KELLY: Do the alleged offences against Kavanaugh strike you as disqualifying?
HILL: I don't want to speculate. I think it's unfair to speculate.
KELLY: If a theoretical Supreme Court nominee had done what these allegations lay out, a sexual assault at a party in high school three decades ago, should that disqualify that person from serving on today's Supreme Court?
HILL: I think we need the totality of the facts, but I certainly think that this is a serious allegation, that an individual who comes into the court should not have a cloud over himself and over the court because of behavior that he engaged in. I would say personally that if I had to make a decision about a nominee, I would not want a member of the court to have engaged in sexual assault even as a teenager.
And it's not to say that there cannot be a situation where a person has risen above these kinds of behavior or teenage behavior. But it is to say that what we have is a person speaking the privilege of representing the laws of this country. And when that individual is reasonably believed to have broken those laws and then not been truthful about it, to me, that's a disqualification.
KELLY: You have invoked the word fairness repeatedly as we've been talking, and that speaks to a point that came out during your own testimony. I want to play you one exchange. This is of course from 1991. This is Senator Arlen Specter questioning you.
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ARLEN SPECTER: What is your view of the fairness of asking Judge Thomas to reply eight, nine, 10 years after the fact?
HILL: I don't believe it's unfair. I think that that's something that you have to take into account in evaluating his comments.
KELLY: This question of how long has lapsed between the alleged sexual misconduct and raising these allegations now - that was, as we just heard, an issue in your testimony, and it is a question very much in play as this week's proceedings unfold. Is it fair, Anita Hill, to raise allegations from years ago?
HILL: A hearing - a confirmation hearing about the character and fitness of an individual who is going to sit on the country's highest court presumably for the rest of his life - the confirmation process involves going back and looking at the entirety of the nominee's life. Whether it's 10 years or 30 years, we're talking about an experience that is a reflection - potentially a reflection on the character and fitness of the nominee. And it has to be taken into account, and it has to be taken seriously. And that is fair.
KELLY: You're one of the only people on Earth who can answer my next question from firsthand experience. What is the personal cost of choosing to come forward, make a public allegation and testify in this kind of forum?
HILL: Well, we've seen that Dr. Blasey Ford has already been threatened. Her family has been threatened. That's certainly the highest cost when you consider that your children are being threatened. I didn't have children, but my family was threatened along with me. My friends were threatened. Anybody who dared support me were also threatened with loss of life, loss of jobs. You lose privacy.
But in the end, for me, what it has come down to is that I felt that I had an obligation to come forward. I felt that I had relevant information about the character and fitness of the nominee. I had an obligation to the truth, and I had an obligation as a member of the bar to the court.
KELLY: Do you ever regret coming forward? It has come to define your life in ways you could not possibly have imagined in 1991.
HILL: No, I do not regret coming forward. And, yes, it is true that it's redefined my life in many ways. But in the end, I still have the power to define who I am and what my life stands for.
KELLY: Anita Hill, thank you.
HILL: Thank you.
KELLY: Today she is university professor of social policy, law and women's and gender studies at Brandeis University. In 1991, Anita Hill was the star witness in the confirmation battle over now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
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