Sexual harassment claims continue to follow Justice Clarence Thomas

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks in Worcester, Mass. A hallmark in the search for a new Supreme Court justice is the secretive process for making sure the choice is kept under wraps until the president is ready to reveal it. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks in Worcester, Mass. A hallmark in the search for a new Supreme Court justice is the secretive process for making sure the choice is kept under wraps until the president is ready to reveal it. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Some 25 years after surviving the most contentious confirmation hearing in history, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing a fresh round of sexual harassment allegations.

According to a published report — stemming from a Facebook post — an attorney, who was 23-years-old at the time, claims that Thomas groped her at a dinner party in 1999. By then, Thomas had been on the bench for eight years.

Thomas has denied the charges through a court spokesperson.

Moira Smith, an Alaska energy firm attorney, was a 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 an Access Hollywood 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. Had he said those words and not touched, I’d probably have been flattered. But it felt somewhat menacing and I felt vulnerable.”

Orion Douglass, a senior state court judge in Glynn County, grew up with Thomas in Pin Point, a small predominantly black community near Savannah. Reached in Saint Simons, he had not heard of the recent allegations until called by a reporter. He was surprised, but doubtful.

“I have known Clarence all of his life. I don’t buy any of this at all,” said Douglass, who also went to law school with the justice. “I know him to be a person of integrity and character. He is a man of honor.”

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.

Smith, who could not be reached for comment, has since deactivated her Facebook account. That is not out of the ordinary either, said Kim Davis, executive director of the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia in Rome, who added that sometimes a victims become worried about backlash.

“People are in the mindset of, ‘If you didn’t talk about it, it didn’t happen,’” Davis said. “But that’s not the case. Sometimes the stigma and backlash makes them think it’s just not worth it to say anything.”

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. Most victims never come forward and some take years or decades to do so, 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.’”

But through a Supreme Court spokesman, Thomas said he didn’t do it: “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 repeatedly harassed her.

Hill’s testimony set off a national firestorm abated only by Thomas’ eventual confirmation.

Douglass, who also never believed the Hill story, said Thomas has been the victim of political attacks because he never fit the standard mode that the black elite was looking for as a replacement for liberal justice, Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first black justice and the man that Thomas essentially replaced on the court in 1991.

"He never got the (blessing) from the black elite, who were insulted that Bush would select a replacement for Marshall without checking with them. So they were insulted," Douglass said. "He got caught in the perfect storm. But Clarence is a tough minded and isn't afraid to fight back."

But there might not be much to fight about. The Supreme Court is down to eight members after the February death of conservative justice and Thomas ally Antonin Scalia. The Republican-led Senate has refused to give President Obama’s moderate nominee Merrick Garland a hearing and would be even-more hesitant to begin the long, painful process of trying to impeach a sitting justice, which has happened only once.

John Maltese, a political science professor at the University of Georgia and an expert in the Supreme Court, said impeachment proceedings initiated by the House of Representatives is the only way to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice.

Impeachment would be a longshot even in a Republican-controlled Congress. It requires a simple majority vote, followed by a Senate trial. To be convicted and removed from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

The only Supreme Court justice ever to be impeached was Samuel Chase, but the Senate acquitted him in 1805.

Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.