Alaska lawyer Moira Smith claimed a few weeks back that she had been groped by Justice Clarence Thomas at a dinner in 1999, a charge that got rapid traction in the left-wing and legal press due to liberals’ deep hatred of Justice Thomas, the leftover damage to his reputation from the 1991 Anita Hill hearings, and the subtext of a black man preying on a young white woman. Thomas, after issuing a vigorous denial (“The claim is preposterous and it never happened”), was left to lament once again the relentless campaign against him after a quarter century:
“I think we have decided that rather than confront disagreements, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with me. I don’t think that’s going to work in a republic, in a civil society.”
The world of politics is full of charges of sexual misconduct of an almost endless variety, and we’ve learned from long experience that it is equally foolish either to automatically believe or disbelieve such charges (or to believe them only of your opponents); the proof is in the details. Smith’s claim seems curiously timed, as she only surfaced 17 years after the fact, and by her own testimony did so in direct response to the spate of stories about Donald Trump. The long delay alone isn’t proof by itself that her charges should be disbelieved, as there are often a variety of reasons women don’t come forward, but it’s a strike against her credibility, particularly given her choice of timing and the fact that she has obviously never since been in a position where the Justice had any power over her.
If that was all we knew, the charge might hang in the air ambiguously forever, but it’s not. I hope you’ve read Carrie Severino’s excellent summaries over at Bench Memos (here and here; more here and on the front page), and I’d add to that the followup piece in the National Law Journal, a summary from Must Read Alaska, and defenses from people otherwise critical of Justice Thomas, criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield and senior federal District Judge Richard Kopf. The short summary comes down to two main points:
One, Smith is a longstanding Democratic partisan, with extensive business, family and financial ties to the Democratic Party and various left-leaning organizations and causes, and thus intensely motivated to score points against Thomas as well as using him to add to the narrative pile-on against Trump. Her current husband, a former chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party, was forced out of a 2008 race for Congress after his campaign caught creating fake websites to discredit his opponent.
Two, the alleged groping took place in a public setting, in a roomful of witnesses, yet nobody else there supports Smith’s account:
Louis Blair, the host of the 1999 dinner party and now retired as the Truman Foundation director, said he did not witness anything involving Thomas and Smith, and neither did another scholar who worked that evening with Smith….three of the other guests at the dinner—including [Blair]—said they had no knowledge of any “untoward activity” at the dinner. Blair noted that there were approximately 16 attendees “floating around” three rooms, and he is “skeptical that the justice and Moira would have been alone.”
As former Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan famously asked after a Bronx jury acquitted him of corruption charges in 1987, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Justice Thomas’ only recourse, it seems, will be to his legacy in the United States Reports.