Hatch Draws Controversy in Supreme Court Sexual Misconduct Hearings, Again



Utah State Capitol. Chronicle archives.

By Nelson Lotz

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, has recently attracted a new wave of controversy in his methods of handling the sexual assault allegations that are held against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. However, this is not the first time that Hatch has come under fire for his response to an alleged case of sexual harassment by a Supreme Court nominee. Orrin Hatch is one of three Senators who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee during both the Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas hearings 27 years ago in 1991. In 1991, Hatch played a key role as the designated Republican questioning Anita Hill. Now in 2018, Hatch again gained attention for his ardent defense of the accused nominee.


In 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clearance Thomas to the Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, Anita Hill, a former employee of Justice Thomas, came forward with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace against Thomas. The resulting hearings drew a plethora of controversy, and the following year saw an unprecedented multitude of women running for and winning elected offices. The 1992, midterms consequently became known as ‘The Year of the Woman.’ The hearing gave birth to the beginning of public discourses on sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace.

Hill was treated with hostility by the then all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Hatch, as the designated questioner for Senate Judiciary Republicans, had no small part in creating an atmosphere of hostility against Hill. Throughout the 1991 hearings, Hatch repeatedly dismissed Hill’s claim as being “too contrived.” At one point during the hearing, Hatch held up a copy of William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” and claimed that Hill had fabricated her testimony of sexual harassment from the novel. He also compared her story to a similar case of sexual harassment that occurred in Kansas. Hatch said that “there’s no question in my mind she was coached by special interest groups,” and defended the character of the nominee, Justice Thomas.

Anita Hill, who is now a professor at Brandeis University, criticized Sen. Hatch for his handling of the 1991 hearing at a lecture hosted by the Tanner Humanities Center on campus just this past Wednesday.


Hatch, who announced his retirement this coming January, is still a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has again lept to the defense of the Republican nominee, Kavanaugh, this time with the aid of Twitter. Since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Justice Kavanaugh of attempted rape which he committed while the two were in high school, Hatch has once again attacked Democrats for using such a situation for their political gain. Hatch has accused Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, of leaking Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations to the press against her will. Sen. Hatch had a phone call with Justice Kavanaugh, after Dr. Blasey Ford’s name surfaced, after which Hatch said in a statement that Dr. Blasey Ford was “mistaken,” before talking to Dr. Blasey Ford or hearing her testify. This statement resulted in outrage online and on social media. Hatch also called subsequent claims of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh “phony.” Unlike in the case of Anita Hill, the witness, Dr. Blasey Ford, was questioned by a professional sex crimes prosecutor, carefully avoiding the damaging optics present in the Anita Hill hearing of male Senators grilling the lone woman witness. During the hearing, Hatch said “this is a national disgrace the way you [Kavanaugh] are being treated,” and that “porn star lawyers with implausible claims are driving the news cycle.” He also opposed an FBI investigation into the allegations — a similar one took place for the Anita Hill investigations — until Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, a key vote for the Republicans, called for an investigation “limited in scope” on Friday.

Sen. Hatch’s actions have once again caused bitter opposition. Many fear that the treatment Hatch and his colleagues have given Dr. Blasey Ford and others who hold allegations against Kavanaugh will discourage survivors of sexual assault from reporting out of fear of similar treatment. Hatch is also under fire for calling Dr. Blasey Ford an “attractive, good witness” following her testimony. After he was asked to elaborate by reporters Hatch said: “she’s pleasing.” Sara Matlock, sophomore political science major, said that she found “his choice of words to be insensitive given the subject of the testimony [given by Blasey Ford].” The saga of the Kavanaugh hearings has generated commentary across the country on perceptions of gender roles, particularly after Kavanaugh’s testimony. As a result, a vast amount of criticism is aimed at the conduct of the various Senators on the Judiciary Committee. Hatch is at the center of many of them. Nain Christopherson, sophomore English teaching major, said, “Sen. Hatch is not representing half the people of Utah. He is not representing the women of Utah” in relation to his handling of the Kavanaugh allegations.

Hatch continues to generate controversy over his response to sexual harassment and assault allegations 27 years after the Anita Hill hearings. While Hatch dismissed Hill’s testimony as “contrived” he found Ford to be “credible.” However, he defended the character of the accused in both instances and challenged the allegations over why they had not been brought up earlier. In both instances, Hatch believed the nominee innocent and accused ‘The Left’ of organizing a politically motivated hatchet job. Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and to this day remains a controversial figure because of the Anita Hill accusations. Kavanaugh’s fate is still unknown though he too may end up in the same position as Associate Justice Thomas. What is assured is that after 42 years in the Senate, Hatch will be remembered for his controversial treatment of these women.

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