Richard Borreca
Special to the Hawai‘i Herald

When a national controversy flared first with the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, and then 27 years later with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the nation’s highest court, Hawai‘i played a role in both debates.

In 1991, although she was in the House of Representatives and not the Senate, which would decide on the Thomas nomination, U.S. Rep. Patsy (Takemoto) Mink was a decisive voice in helping to lead opposition.

Mink was one of seven female House members that marched to the Senate, demanding that it hold a hearing on the allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed Anita Hill, an aide to Thomas. The Senate initially wavered on the request for a hearing. Soon after the march, however, a hearing was scheduled. The hearings became one of the first major public discussions of workplace sexual harassment in the U.S.

“They can’t vote with the nagging question out there and with the public wondering what happened.

“By itself, it would disqualify him,” Mink said at the time.

“We must be very careful. Tomorrow’s workplace for women will be affected by how the Supreme Court decides the issue of harassment in the workplace,” she continued.

Asked 27 years later if she recalled her mother’s involvement, Gwendolyn “Wendy” Mink said “yes.”

“The congresswomen marched over to the Senate Democratic Caucus to demand a delay in the confirmation vote so that the issues raised by Anita Hill could be aired and so that she could be heard,” recalled Mink in an email interview. “It was a dramatic and spontaneous action that the congresswomen decided to do because Senate Democrats, who were in the majority, seemed not interested in weighing Hill’s story carefully before moving ahead with a confirmation vote.”

“The women of the House acted in solidarity with Hill, with women across the country and with the lone Democratic woman senator to try to get the men of the Senate to understand the urgent importance of Hill’s story.”

A feminist policy and politics scholar, Wendy Mink says that now, as the debate over the Kavanaugh appointment rages, Hawai‘i’s Mazie Hirono is in the forefront.

“The actions of the congresswomen in 1991 and the fierce advocacy of Senator Hirono attest to the transformative significance of electing women who are willing to speak up on behalf of women,” Mink said.

Hirono has emerged as one of the most ardent opponents of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

On a Sunday network talk show, Hirono said she fears that Kavanaugh, instead of having a judicial temperament, is actually waiting to do the Republicans’ bidding.

“A partisan, political operative with an agenda, the very worry that kept him from confirmation to the D.C. Circuit for three years. His own words reinforce a concern that I, and many of us here, have, that he cannot be a fair and impartial judge,” Hirono said.

“And he revealed himself as a partisan. I would think that if I were a Democrat going before him, I’d ask him to recuse himself,” Hirono said.

Earlier, Hirono sharpened the debate in a U.S. Capitol news conference about how the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault traces back to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas.

“And you know what, she (Dr. Christine Blasey Ford) is under no obligation to participate in the Republican efforts to sweep this whole thing under the rug, to continue this nomination on the fast track and to participate in a smear campaign and basically a railroad job. This is what they did to Anita Hill,” said Hirono in a report by The Washington Post.

Hirono, however, then made the controversy all her own when she added: “Guess who is perpetrating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono said. “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”

Richard Borreca is a Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.


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