by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
In 1991 Clarence Thomas was nominated as a Supreme Court Justice. University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill came forward, under oath, to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing with allegations that she was sexually harassed by Thomas when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He was her boss.
‘Confirmation’ is the currently playing HBO “docudrama” about those 1991 Senate confirmation hearings. This is a film about integrity, conviction, truth, race, gender bias and all the promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant.
Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52-48, but the Judiciary Committee hearings swept the United States. Professor Hill’s testimony consequently gave many women across America increased courage to confront workplace sexual harassment and has had a significant impact in shaping today’s workplace.
Kerry Washington (Anita Hill), Wendell Pierce (Clarence Thomas) and Greg Kinnear (Joe Biden) give excellent performances. Plus, the backdrop of authentic archive news footage provides the filmgoer with an opportunity to witness some of the realities of the hearing.
Senator John C. Danforth (D-MO) is the chief proponent for Judge Thomas throughout the film. We see him visiting the Thomas’ at home where Sen. Danforth, Judge and Mrs. Thomas pray together and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Sen. Danforth is also an Episcopal priest.
NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, who reported on the Hill story, says in an introduction to a 2005 published transcript of the hearing: “Despite the fact that Hill took and passed a lie detector test, the two sides were no match for each other. The Thomas forces, frantic but unified, marched together to a strategic tune composed by Thomas and Danforth and orchestrated by the White House. Hill’s forces, inexperienced, in disarray, and with little or no support from Senate Democrats, were left to flounder. When it was over, public opinion polls showed the people believed Clarence Thomas by a margin of two to one, a ratio that would reverse itself in less than two years.”
It often takes time for misuse of power to be recognized and addressed. Perhaps that is why the crucifixion and resurrection rings so true for us, because we can see the reality of it in our own lives.
A recent Washington Post article sheds more light on the hearings:
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels