Madeleine Kunin: In 1991, I testified against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas

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Madeleine Kunin press conference 1984
Madeleine Kunin, the first and only woman elected governor of Vermont, fields questions Nov. 8, 1984, from reporters at her first Statehouse news conference since winning the election. UPI photo

Thirty-two years ago, in 1991, I testified against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Biden.

It could be happening in 2023. We were four women pleading before the all-male Judiciary Committee. I admired how well each woman spoke. 

Sarah Weddington, a young lawyer from Texas, spoke first. She will go down in history for having litigated Roe v. Wade successfully.

Kate Michelman described how she had to get her husband’s permission. He had just left her, with three young daughters.

Faye Wattleton spoke last, the first black president of Planned Parenthood. I spoke just before she did.

“Once again, when it comes to our issues, we find ourselves repeating the ancient cycle of helplessness that women have experienced throughout history. The sense of powerlessness is painful. We are put in the position of pleaders, asking you to ask our questions for us…”

Clarence Thomas had remained silent on the abortion question. But we knew where he stood and we were afraid. He had refused, again and again, to reveal his position. We feared that Roe v. Wade would be decided state by state or abolished entirely.

“As a former governor, I am acutely aware of the unequal burdens that would be borne by states if this fundamental right is determined on a state-by-state basis and I am equally cognizant of the unequal rights that would be meted out to women, depending on where they happen to live, their access to information, money and transportation.”

Little did I dream what I anticipated would one day come true, and possibly be worse than we could have imagined.

I ended my testimony: ”After two weeks of hearings, the question (of abortion) remains unanswered. Who is Judge Thomas? Any nominee to the Supreme Court has the obligation to give that answer to the American people.”

Today we have that answer in full detail. It is not pretty.

Madeleine May Kunin

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