Anita Hill made history in 1991 when she launched a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace during live televised hearings for the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill, a lawyer, scholar, professor, and black woman, discussed in heartbreaking detail the harassment she suffered, allegedly at the hands of Thomas, when she was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and she advised him.
Within hours of compelling testimony, Hill sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a group of 14 white men chaired by Joe Biden, then a Democratic Senator from Delaware, who criticized her about her experiences with Thomas. Their line of interrogation was notoriously exhausting, calling Hill an attacker rather than a victim. The Senate eventually confirmed Thomas’s appointment.
Thirty years later, Hill – who has repeatedly asserted that testing was an ethical responsibility – is still leading conversations about how gender-based violence permeates American society and still has a lot to say about the Supreme Court. She is hosting a new podcast, On par with Anita Hilland last fall he published his latest book, Believe: our 30-year journey to end gender-based violencein which he talks about the movement for trust and support for survivors.
With the recent confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will be the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, I reached out to Hill for the latest episode of Vox conversationsto discuss Jackson’s confirmation, Hill’s work as an activist, and the future of the Supreme Court. At the heart of Hill’s scholarship is her quest to strengthen equality, whether she is exploring how female judges influence the justice system or the ethical obligations of American institutions such as the Supreme Court to improve life of all Americans.
Although Hill and I spoke before the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion was publicly published, we discussed the prospect that the Court would soon overturn its watershed. roe deer v. veal decision, making abortion virtually inaccessible in much of the country. (I reached out to Hill about her thoughts on the leak and whether she still feels the same about the court, but Vox hasn’t received a response by the time of publication.)
Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. There’s a lot more to the full podcast, so sign up Vox conversations up Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stapleror wherever you listen to podcasts.
I have a question big enough for you. Do you still believe in the Supreme Court as an institution?
Oh, as an institution, I believe in the Supreme Court, but I also know from history alone that the Supreme Court is only as good as the people who work there. As a lawyer who has studied law and the evolution of law, he gave us the Cassation Dred Scott v. Sandford. This basically said that blacks had no rights that whites needed to observe. He gave us Plexuses v. Ferguson.
And so I know that the Supreme Court is not flawless, but I also know that it is my responsibility and, I believe, the responsibility of everyone who is sworn in to the Constitution. It is our responsibility to make sure that the Supreme Court is what it should be, that it has the integrity it should have, and that the people within it have that integrity. And that’s how I can restore my confidence in the Court.
Do you think it will be a long time before your faith is fully there? Because we are moving to a place where the Court will probable overturning roe deer v. veal at the end of June. We know the judges [Sonia] Mayor, [Elena] Kagan and now Brown Jackson will be part of a liberal minority writing dissent. How can we have faith when everything seems so bleak?
Well, I think the only way we can really have faith is to look at it in the long run, because, like I said, I’ve read the story. And I know there was a Plexuses v. Fergusonbut I also know that there was a Brown v. Board of Education and that in many ways Brown overturned Plexia. I am not saying that the Court is infallible or that I agree with every decision made, but if the Court has real integrity, it can change the law and change. And this is because people develop strategies to bring the law closer to the Constitution.
So, I wonder how the general public should feel. You mentioned how unpopular the court is now, and I have some numbers from The latest Gallup poll, since September 2021. Only 40% of Americans approve of the work done by the Supreme Court and 53% disapprove. This is a new low for the Court.
For those who do not know him Plexia, and they are unfamiliar with these other horrible decisions that the Supreme Court has made, but then ultimately overturned through other judgments: How should they find hope in the Supreme Court? And I will also add: with the new information that has been brought to light, that the spouse of a Supreme Court judge was it turned out that he was actively campaigning Reverse the 2020 presidential election results: How can an ordinary person be excited about the Supreme Court with this kind of information?
I’m not sure they can be satisfied with where the court is today. I think there are probably people who are very happy with it, but I know there are others who are not. And I know that people are working on strategies that will ultimately lead to better decisions, just as they did in the 1890s, when there was so much to overcome in terms of what was wrong with Supreme Court decisions.
It’s hard to get such a broad view of the Court, but I think that’s where we need to be right now. We have what I call a super-majority of people on the court who are likely to continue to do good things like voting rights. Of course, they will continue to weaken and chip roe deer v. veal, if not completely reverse it. That’s where we are now, but I know from the past that doesn’t mean that’s where we always have to be. And I know there are too many people fighting against this for it to last forever. I just hope that too much damage is not done to our rights and protections and to the Constitution before we can get back on the right track.
Let me also say that there are other ways we can reverse some decisions. We can do it at the legislative level, at the federal level. So elections are important. We can do this at the state and local levels to provide protection for people when federal law fails. We can think about whether we are complying with the laws of our land outside the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is not the only body in charge of enforcing the Constitution.
I know some lawmakers have tabled a couple of bills to establish a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, such as establishing very specific guidelines for determining when a justice should reject a certain case, for example. Of course, these accounts have stalled. So I wonder if the Supreme Court should just go ahead and do it [on their own] because they have the power to create something similar for themselves. Are you in favor of something like this?
I absolutely think it should happen. I think we cannot create this bubble for the Supreme Court from the reality of what conflicts mean. Conflicts escalate and thus undermine the integrity of our legal system We are a country that observes the rule of law. And when our legal system is undermined – when open conflicts can be presented without recourse or with no response – then what we have done is truly taken from our entire government. We have reached that level right now, where people are shaking their heads and don’t know how to trust the system because right now it’s openly letting them down.
I think we need to take care of this. There are many people out there who have expressed their views on what justice is [John] Roberts should lead justice. But ultimately, it is something that will have to be done in ways where there is real consensus among the different governing bodies. So, I think the Senate needs to get involved. I think it is necessary to involve the House, in addition to the judiciary.
I’ll say it, and I may sound naïve, but I think the American public really wants there to be a level playing field. They do not want a court that appears at first sight to be prejudiced without recourse. They want the courts to represent integrity, fairness and justice.