A lawyer claims Clarence Thomas groped her at a dinner party in 1999 when he was on the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a published report.
Thomas denied the charges through a court spokesperson. The Georgia native had been plagued by earlier allegations of sexual harassment during his polarizing 1991 confirmation hearings.
Moira Smith, an Alaska energy firm attorney, was a 23-year-old Truman Scholar fresh out of Georgetown when she said Thomas grabbed her buttocks several times at the Virginia home of her boss.
Smith’s account was published Thursday in the National Law Journal, after she initially posted details of the incident on Facebook on Oct. 7 – the same day that a tape surfaced of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging that he likes to grope women.
“He groped me while I was setting the table,” Smith wrote of Thomas. “Suggesting I should sit ‘right next to him.’”
She later told the National Law Journal, which also interviewed several of Smith’s friends: “You know when somebody puts an arm around your waist, it would have been overly familiar, but wouldn’t have crossed any boundaries,” she said. “I would have been OK by that and flattered. Instead, he was 5 or 6 inches down and he got a good handful and he kept squeezing me and pulling me close to him.”
“There was definitely pressure and underscored by how close he pulled me to him,” she continued. “Had he said those words and not touched, I’d probably have been flattered. But it felt somewhat menacing and I felt vulnerable. He was seated and I was at a level of intimacy that felt really inappropriate in that setting.”
Smith, now a 41-year-old a vice president at Enstar Natural Gas Co., said her decision to share her story was prompted by the Trump incident.
“We took something serious and just normalized it by laughing at it. Donald Trump said when you’re a star, they let you do it; you can do anything. The idea that we as victims let them do it made me mad,” Smith told the National Law Journal. “Sure enough, Justice Thomas did it with I think an implicit pact of silence that I would be so flattered and star-struck and surprised that I wouldn’t say anything. I played the chump. I didn’t say anything.”
Through a Supreme Court spokesman, Thomas said: “This claim is preposterous and it never happened.”
This would not be the first time that Thomas, who is celebrating 25 years on the bench, has been accused of harassment. During his 1991 confirmation hearings, attorney Anita Hill, who worked with Thomas in the 1980s for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, testified that Thomas had repeatedly harassed her.
Hill’s testimony set off a national firestorm abated only by Thomas’ eventual confirmation.
Thomas has recently been the topic of another national debate over his absence from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened last month in Washington and celebrates 400 years of black struggle and achievement.
Thomas, was born in Pin Point, a small predominantly black community near Savannah. Supreme Court justices serve for life. A legal expert said the only way they can be removed from the bench is through an impeachment proceeding initiated in the U.S. House of Representatives and followed by a trial in the Senate.
Smith’s claim that she came forward after Trump’s crude remarks surfaced rang true for some advocates for victims of sexual assault.
It is not unusual for a victim who has experienced an assault to come forward after hearing an account of another victim, said Kesha Gibson-Carter, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire in Savannah.
A color, a smell, a song, are among the many things that can be a trigger for a victim to come forward with her story, she said.
“We’re living in a time of 24-hour news channels, Facebook, Twitter, where you have this continuous message about the assaults,” Gibson-Carter said. “It almost becomes as though the victim is being spoken to. It can cause her to remember things she may never have talked about. From there, two things can happen. You can buckle under, become depressed, or the individual can become empowered at seeing someone else come forward and say, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”
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