White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said she wasn’t sure if President Biden is consulting with Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when he was nominated decades ago, as he reviews candidates for his first own nomination to the high court.
Many Democrats believe Biden threw Hill to the wolves in 1991 when he presided over Thomas’ Senate confirmation hearings and he’s expressed regret for his actions.
Journalist April Ryan of TheGrio asked Psaki at her daily press briefing if Hill was among the outside advisers consulted as Biden fulfills his campaign-trail promise to nominate the first black woman in the court’s history.
“I would have to check on that for you,” Psaki told Ryan, who pressed again if Hill is involved in discussions with the White House. “I will check with our team,” Psaki said.
Biden presided over harsh questioning of Hill as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He and colleagues took turns grilling the then-35-year-old law professor on her specific claims, with Biden asking Hill to detail her “most embarrassing” encounter with Thomas.
Hill, now 65, gained public sympathy for the skeptical grilling from the panel of men. Biden invited his colleagues to “plumb the depths of her credibility” — and then sat through uncomfortable questions about breast size and pornography.
The hearings drew the condemnation of Biden from both parties — with Democrats slamming Biden as insensitive to sexual harassment accusers and Republicans rallying behind Thomas’s denials and his assertion that he was the victim of a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”
Thomas, 73, was confirmed to a lifetime post without Biden’s support and currently is the Supreme Court’s only black member. He is one of six justices nominated by a Republican president.
Hill has remained critical of Biden despite his statements of regret.
Shortly before he launched his presidential bid in 2019, Biden called Hill to express “his regret for what she endured,” according to a statement from his campaign. The call was criticized as a non-apology.
Hill told The New York Times that she was unsatisfied with Biden’s outreach and didn’t believe he fully accepted responsibility for his actions.
“The focus on an apology, to me, is one thing,” Hill said. “But there needs to be an apology to the other witnesses and there needs to be an apology to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”
The late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who grilled Hill as a Republican before later becoming a Democrat, wrote in a 2000 memoir that Biden confided to him that he didn’t believe Hill’s harassment claims.
“Biden told me in November 1998, ‘It was clear to me from the way she was answering the questions, she was lying,’ ” Specter wrote.
Top contenders to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer include 51-year-old DC appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer clerk who was confirmed by the Senate 53-47 last year with three Republican votes.
Georgia federal Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, 47, the sister of two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, 45, are also believed to be in contention.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are openly campaigning for Biden to pick South Carolina federal judge J. Michelle Childs, 55.
Vice President Kamala Harris, 57, also is a potential contender, due to her past roles as California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney. Biden insisted last month that Harris will be his running mate if he seeks re-election in 2024.