Anita Hill made history in 1991 when she launched a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace during the live televised nomination hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill, a lawyer, academic, teacher and black woman, discussed in excruciating detail the harassment she suffered, allegedly at the hands of Thomas, when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and she was advising him.
In a few hours of gripping 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 questioned her about her experiences with Thomas. Her line of questioning was infamously grueling, presenting Hill as an aggressor, rather than a victim. The Senate ultimately confirmed Thomas’s nomination.
Thirty years later, Hill, who has repeatedly said testing was an ethical responsibility, continues to lead conversations about how gender-based violence pervades American society, and she still has a lot to say about the Supreme Court. He hosts a new podcast, Take revenge on Anita Hilland last fall, he released his latest book, Believe: Our thirty-year journey to end gender-based violencein which he narrates the movement to trust and support the 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 reinforce equality, whether she is exploring how women judges affect the justice system or the ethical obligations of American institutions. like the Supreme Court to improve the lives of all Americans.
Although Hill and I spoke before the draft of the leaked Supreme Court opinion was made public, we discussed the possibility that the Court may soon invalidate its tipping point. roe v. calf decision, making abortion effectively inaccessible in much of the country. (I reached out to Hill for his thoughts on the leak and if he still feels the same way about the Court, but Vox did not receive a response at the time of publication.)
Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. There’s so much more to the full podcast, so subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, stapleror wherever you listen to podcasts.
I have a pretty big question 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 just from history, that the Supreme Court is only as good as the people on it. As a lawyer who has studied the law and the evolution of law, it was the Supreme Court that gave us Dred Scott v. Sandford. That basically said that blacks had no rights that whites needed to observe. he gave us Plessy v. Ferguson.
And so, I know that the Supreme Court is not perfect, but I also know that it is my responsibility and, I think, the responsibility of everyone who has applied to the bar and sworn to the Constitution. It is our responsibility to make sure that the Supreme Court is what it should be, that it has the integrity that it should have, and that the people on it have that integrity. And this is how I can restore my faith in the Court.
Do you think it will be a long time until your faith is fully there? Because we moved to a place where the Court likely rollover roe v. calf At the end of june. We know that the judges [Sonia] sotomayor, [Elena] Kagan and now Brown Jackson are going to be part of a liberal minority that is 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 this long term, because, like I said, I’ve read the story. And I know there was a Plessy v. Fergusonbut I also know there was a brown vs. board of education and that in many ways, Brown tipped over pleasant. I am not saying that the Court is infallible or that it agrees with every decision that is made, but if the Court has true integrity, it can change the law and change. And that is done because people develop strategies to bring the law closer to the Constitution.
So, I wonder how the general public is supposed to feel. You mentioned how unpopular the Court is right now, and I have some numbers from Gallup’s latest poll, as of September 2021. Only 40 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing, and 53 percent disapprove. That is a new low for the Court.
For people who are not familiar with pleasant, and they’re not familiar with these other horrible decisions that the Supreme Court has made, but eventually overturned through other rulings: how are they supposed to find hope in the Supreme Court? And I will also add: with the new information that has come to light, that the spouse of a Supreme Court justice was it was discovered that he was actively campaigning nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election: how can an ordinary person be excited about the Supreme Court with this kind of information?
I am not sure that they can be satisfied with the current situation of the Court. I think there are probably people who are very satisfied with it, but I know there are others who are not. And I know that people are working on the strategies that will ultimately lead to better decisions, just as they did in the 1890s, when there was a lot to overcome in terms of what was wrong with Supreme Court decisions.
It is difficult to have that long-term vision of the Court, but I think that is where we have to be now. We have what I call a large majority of people on the Court who will probably continue to enjoy good things like the right to vote. They will certainly continue to undermine and undermine roe v. calf, if not reverse it completely. That’s where we are now, but I know from the past that doesn’t mean we always have to be there. And I know there are too many people fighting that 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 say, too, that there are other ways we can reverse some decisions. We can do it legislatively, at the federal level. So elections are important. We can do that at the state and local levels to protect people when federal law fails us. We can think if we are up to the laws of our land outside the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is not the only body that is responsible for enforcing the Constitution.
I know that some legislators have pushed through a couple of bills to institute a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, such as establishing very specific guidelines for determining when a justice must refrain from a given case, for example. Of course, these bills have stalled. So I’m wondering if the Supreme Court should go ahead and do this. [on their own] because they have the power to create something like this for themselves. Are you in favor of something like that?
I definitely think it should happen. I believe that we cannot create this bubble for the Supreme Court from the reality of what conflicts mean. Conflicts escalate and then 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 conflict is allowed to go on without any recourse or without any response, then what we have really done is taken away from our entire government. We’ve gotten to that level right now, where people are shaking their heads and they don’t know how to trust the system because it’s failing them outright right now.
I think we have to control that. There are many people out there who have given their opinion on what Justice [John] Roberts should serve as Chief Justice. But ultimately it is something that will have to be done in a way that there is real buy-in from the different government agencies. Therefore, I think the Senate should be involved. I believe that the Chamber should participate, as well as the judiciary.
I will say this, and it may sound naive, but I think the American public really wants a level playing field. They do not want a court that at first glance appears biased and without recourse. They want the courts to represent integrity, fairness and justice.