Following a contentious confirmation hearing, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court on this day in history, Oct. 15, 1991.
In July 1991, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, announced his retirement after 34 years, History.com cited.
Subsequently, President George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, nominated Thomas, who at that time was a 43-year-old African American judge known for his conservative beliefs, to fill Justice Marshall’s seat, the same source indicated.
Thomas had served as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during President Ronald Reagan’s administration; in 1990 President Bush appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals, several sources stated.
As the confirmation hearings for Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination began, he evaded controversy over his conservative views on topics such as abortion by refusing to state a clear political position, according to History.com.
Many believed he would be confirmed to the Supreme Court quickly — until Anita Hill, a former aide, who had become a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, accused him of sexual harassment.
Hill’s allegations, made public on Oct. 5, 1991, totally changed the nature and tenor of the nomination, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Within days, the Senate‘s judicial screening process was under attack and Thomas’ career and reputation were thrown into doubt, the same source recounted.
Beginning on Oct. 11, 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee held four days of publicly televised hearings on Hill’s charges.
Americans were shocked by both the frankness of Hill’s testimony and the unsympathetic response of the all-male committee, some of whom were openly antagonistic toward Hill, according to History.com.
During her hours of testimony, Hill recounted stories of how Thomas had humiliated her with lewd comments and unwanted advances, according to Congressional Quarterly.
“My efforts to change the subject were rarely successful,” Hill testified at that time.
Thomas denied the charges, according to multiple sources.
“That was the closest vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee in more than a century.”
Following the committee’s hearings, the Senate vote was 52–48.
Eleven Democrats and 41 Republicans supported Thomas and 46 Democrats and two Republicans opposing him, according to Congressional Quarterly.
“That was the closest vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee in more than a century,” the same source said.
Justice Thomas was born in the Pinpoint community near Savannah, Georgia, on June 23, 1948.
He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1971 and from Yale Law School in 1974, according to the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Thomas is the longest-serving current justice.