On this day 1991, one of the most controversial and contentious Supreme Court confirmation battles came to an end.
Clarence Thomas was confirmed as only the second African-American justice in history by a narrow 52 to 48 vote. Thomas, who was nominated by then-president George H.W. Bush, was accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague, Professor Anita Hill.
Hill testified before the Senate and was grilled relentlessly by the late Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn), who passed away this past weekend.
Specter was widely criticized in feminist circles for what many viewed as biased and sexist lines of questioning during Judiciary hearings. Although now best remembered as a moderate who switched from the Republican to Democratic parties late in his career, it was Specter’s questioning of Hill that cemented his image in many African-Americans minds.
As for Thomas, his tenure of the Supreme Court has been regularly subject to criticism, predominately from the left. Supreme Court watchers have lamented the lack of engagement Thomas has shown from the bench and he has been routinely accused of having political affiliations, which call his impartiality into question.
For his part, Thomas has dismissed his critics and stubbornly stuck to his strict constructionist view of the Constitution and staunchly conservative worldview. He is expected to join the right-wing justices in voting to strike down affirmative action in the next year.