The government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights we hold as fundamental today.
- Thurgood Marshall on the bi-centennial of the Constitution, 1987
On Saturday, October 9th at 7:31 in the morning, Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, picked up her phone and dialed Anita Hill's Brandeis University office phone and left a taped message asking Professor Hill to pray and, then, apologize and explain "why you did what you did with my husband."
Mrs. Thomas later described her call as an "olive branch." Hill saw it differently and called the campus police and the FBI.
The phone call led to a front-page story in The New York Times and stories in other papers and on the web. It raised many questions as to why Mrs. Thomas did what she did. It also resurrected the sordid controversy of her husband's appointment to the US Supreme Court.
Virginia and Clarence Thomas by unknown
Anita Hill has suggested that Mrs. Thomas felt Hill was secretly in love with her husband and, thus, that she had fabricated her testimony about sexual harassment, pornographic movie references and pubic-hairs-in-Coke-can jokes all out of pique and jealousy. Hill's response to this notion is basically: you gotta be kidding.
The phone call story brings back images like the high stacks of Playboy and Penthouse magazines one witness said were piled up in Mr. Thomas' bachelor apartment.
As to the plausibility of Anita Hill's testimony, the phone call story brought out Lillian McEwen, a retired administrative law judge who had dated Clarence Thomas in the 1980s. She told The Washington Post this:
"The Clarence I know was certainly capable of not only doing the things that Anita Hill said he did, but it would be totally consistent with the way he lived his personal life then."
As for Mrs. Thomas' tendency to defend her husband, the Post also reports that back in 1999 "a distraught woman" called one of their reporters commenting on a story about a man falsely accused of indecent exposure. The woman said her husband had suffered the same kind of ordeal. "My husband's name is Clarence Thomas," she said.
Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was an aide to Clarence Thomas when Thomas was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. About the 1991 Senate hearings, he told the Post Mrs. Thomas was "still affected by it. I just pray and hope she can find peace with this situation."
At the far end of the continuum
A recent New York Times graphic continuum of Supreme Court justices based on their voting records put Thomas on the absolute right end of the historic continuum.
His one "liberal" weakness is free speech, especially in the area of sex. In one case, he was sympathetic to the rights of a man who had been entrapped into soliciting underage pornography. He has ridiculed the Texas anti-sodomy law. Most of the time he is known for remaining silent and not asking questions during hearings and for being a tough supporter of executive power.
Given that her husband is such a lightning rod for sordid controversy, it does seem strange that Mrs. Thomas would so willfully risk re-opening the 19-year-old wounds. Did she really think Hill would pray and call to apologize?