On Sunday night’s debate with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden reaffirmed his earlier commitment to nominate a black woman to Supreme Court if he is elected president of the United States.
“I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented,” he said in early February.
Critics say that Biden’s promise to add diversity to the Court was his way of attempting to atone for his role at the relentless interrogation of Anita Hill during the Senate Judiciary Hearings of 1991, including the fact that in his leadership position as Chair he did not give all witnesses the chance to testify.
It all began in 1991 when Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American judge to serve on the Supreme Court, retired. George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a conservative African-American judge. Among the concerns raised about the nominee were fears by women’s groups that if confirmed to the Court it could signify a death knell to the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which ruled that women have the right to an abortion.
During the confirmation hearings, and before votes were cast, an FBI interview with one of Thomas’ former colleagues, Anita Hill, was leaked to the press. It contained allegations of sexual harassment while they both worked at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Hill later testified that Judge Thomas made remarks about women engaging in sexual relations with animals, that someone put pubic hair on his soda can, and about his ‘member’ and sexual conquests. Additionally, Thomas allegedly asked on numerous occasions to meet Hill after hours, which she rejected.
“He said to me very casually ‘You ought to go out with me sometime,'” Hill testified to Senate Judiciary Committee, which was comprised entirely of white males, who interrogated Hill relentlessly.
“Are you a scorned woman?” a Democrat from Alabama asked. “No,” Hill flatly responded.
Moreover, a Republican Senator made an odd remark that comments about women’s breasts are commonplace.
Thomas fiercely opposed Hill’s allegations. During testimony, he dubbed the hearings as a “high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks.” Later, he described Hill in his autobiography as a “most traitorous adversary.”
Hill’s allegations were, after all, a he said she said situation. At the time of the hearings she needed witnesses to corroborate the sexual harassment claims.
When witnesses prepared to testify came forward, it was Senator Joe Biden who did not allow them all to do so. For example, EEOC employees such as Sukari Hardnett, Wright Shannon and another woman, who were either prepared to testify about the culture of the workplace or to corroborate Hill’s allegations, did not ultimately get that opportunity to be heard.
Hill later said to Time when she was asked about Biden’s leadership as chair of the Judiciary Committee, “I did expect that the chair would be fair and gather the testimony from the relevant witnesses, like the three women who were not called in to testify, like the experts on sexual harassment that could have helped inform the committee about how the problem manifests itself.”
“I expected a fair process… That never happened,” Hill added.
In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52-48, with Biden voting against Thomas.
It is after nearly 30 years that Biden has begun to routinely express that he has second thoughts and regrets.
“I’m sorry she was treated the way she was treated,” he said on The View, shortly after he launched his presidential campaign. When probed on why Biden waited decades before contacting Hill to apologize he said, “I didn’t want to invade her space.”
Around this same time, Biden had contacted Anita Hill to apologize for the way she was treated — as she was an apparent victim of sexual harassment — under his leadership. Hill was “not satisfied” with just an apology, The Guardian Reported.
“I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose,” she said.
Biden’s commitment to appointing an African-American judge to the Court seems to be an attempt at creating that “real change.”
In order for this to happen, Biden would need to be elected president, he would likely need the Democrats to dominate the Senate in order for his nominee to be confirmed to the Court, as well as a seat vacancy on the Supreme Court.
According to Vox, some likely picks could be Kentanji Brown Jackson, who was interviewed by President Obama for a position after a Reagan appointee who was confirmed 98-0, Judge Antonin Scalia, died in 2016. Obama eventually chose Merrick Garland to fill the seat but Republicans delayed the proceedings until Trump took office. Trump’s nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed and took his oath on April 10, 2017.
Others options Biden can choose from, Vox added, are Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, criminal justice scholar Michelle Alexander, President Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and New York University law professor Melissa Murray.