Time to Enforce the Rule of Law, Right?

Wasn’t someone impeached a few years ago for perjury? Is that still an operative principle?

In relating the story today of Lillian McEwen, Clarence Thomas’ former girlfriend, the Washington Post makes it pretty clear that Thomas perjured himself during his confirmation hearings.

In her Senate testimony, Hill, who worked with Thomas at two federal agencies, said that Thomas would make sexual comments to her at work, including references to scenes in hard-core pornographic films.

“If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, or the other individuals who heard bits and pieces of it or various levels of it,” Thomas responded to the committee.

McEwen scoffs softly when asked about Thomas’s indignation, which has barely cooled in the 19 years since the hearings. In his vivid 2007 memoir, the justice calls Hill a tool of liberal activists outraged because he did not fit their idea of what an African American should believe.

McEwen . . . said Hill’s long-ago description of Thomas’s behavior resonated with her.

“He was obsessed with porn,” she said of Thomas, who is now 63. “He would talk about what he had seen in magazines and films, if there was something worth noting.”

McEwen added that she had no problem with Thomas’s interests, although she found pornography to be “boring.”

According to McEwen, Thomas would also tell her about women he encountered at work. He was partial to women with large breasts, she said. In an instance at work, Thomas was so impressed that he asked one woman her bra size, McEwen recalled him telling her.

Let me see if I remember this: a few years ago, wasn’t a high-ranking federal officer impeached for perjuring himself?  And didn’t the Republicans who led the impeachment campaign say that it was a matter of high principle, about the Rule Of Law not being able to withstand perjury?

Of course, that other case involved a civil matter having nothing to do with the federal officer’s official duties: this occurred during his confirmation hearings.  So it’s even clearer now, right, guys?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

16 thoughts on “Time to Enforce the Rule of Law, Right?”

  1. Your post will fail to convince anyone in spite of your impeccable logic because you forgot the basic rule – IOKIYAR. Or, to paraphrase George Segal, " Being Republican means never having to say you're sorry".

  2. Not quite _Proof_ of perjury. McEwen's quotes (not sworn testimony) come years after, possibly influenced by other media accounts. It would be a very thin reed to run a perjury prosecution on.

    ( I can't believe I'm defending Justice Thomas. shudder )

  3. Mobius — Fair enough. But of course this, plus Angela Hunter (the woman not called in 1991 who could have been), plus Jane Mayer and Jill Abrason's book Strange Justice, might at least be cause for a special prosecutor, if one adopted the theory behind the Clinton impeachment. There is certainly MUCH more evidence here than there was when the Republicans decided to go after Clinton originally.

  4. I used to enjoy ranting about Republican hypocrisy, but it really gets tiresome after a while. As Matt Yglesias has observed, the R's are just really good at playing the game. Truth, justice, etc., etc. has nothing to do with anything. Whatever route you take to get to the desired destination is fine. Filibuster when it suits, demand an "up or down vote" when it suits… Whatever. If it works, go with it. That's the strategy. I wish "our team" would be more aggressive about it, but I fear that the next time the tables are turned (that we're back in a Thomas confirmation setting), some fraction of Dems will feel compelled to be "reasonable" and we'll lose again.

    H.L. Mencken's line about not going broke comes to mind, but whining and repeating IOKIYAR gets you pretty much nowhere.

  5. Thomas' perjury was relevant not only because it occurred during the confirmation hearings, but because it involved sexual harassment while he headed the EEOC, which is the agency charged with enforcement of the federal law prohibiting sexual harassment.

  6. She's trying to sell a book, right? And so you find this credible, because you typically buy tabloids? (Tell me what's going on with Anglelina and Brad.)

    I thought that the lesson of the Clinton impeachment was that lies about sex don't count. I mean, he won, right? You won. So what are you complaining about anyway?

  7. Yes, Thomas, she's trying to sell a book. A book she completed months ago. Perhaps this was Ginny's plan: help one of her hubby's exes sell some books.

  8. Thomas, there's a difference between lying about sex and covering up sexual harassment. The subsequent revelations about Thomas' mendacity don't show that he harassed Anita Hill, but they completely undermine the credibility of his denials.

    Put another way, Bill Clinton had an affair; Clarence Thomas violated Anita Hill's civil rights. Nice try, though.

  9. Jonathan, that's a pretty lame attempt to distinguish, don't you think? I mean, do you not remember the context? Bill Clinton perjured himself in a sexual harassment case. That's not even a good try.

  10. Thomas,

    Clinton was forced to defend that politically motivated civil case because a Republican-dominated Supreme Court said, "Oh, this trivial little thing will have no effect on the Office and duties of the President. It can't wait until he's out of office, do it now."

    And the perjury wasn't on a matter relevant to the Flowers case at all. It was something completely different.

    Better luck next time to the mound, fella.

  11. Dennis,

    (1) You said: "Clinton was forced to defend that politically motivated civil case because a Republican-dominated Supreme Court said …." Clinton v. Jones turns out to have been a remarkably misguided decision, but it was a unanimous decision authored by Justice Stevens. So what is the factual basis for your insinuation that its outcome was dictated by the political affiliations of the justices?

    (2) You said "the perjury wasn't on a matter relevant to the Flowers case at all." Technically true, but remarkably misleading. There was no Flowers case; there was a Jones case. In the Jones case, the plaintiff's lawyers attempted to prove a pattern of sexual relationships with subordinates to prove that Clinton sexually harassed an Arkansas state employee. Clinton's testimony about his relationship with Lewinsky was certainly relevant to the Jones case on this theory.

  12. Thomas the fact that there was a sexual harassment case just shows that Paula Jones chose to sue. It was perfectly clear from the beginning that, if all of Jones's claims of fact were accurate, then no sexual harassment took place. The case was dismissed without trial, because it was plainly unfounded.

    You equate a clearly obviously false assertion with fact, because, being a Republican, you make up your own reality.

    Clinton's statement under oath was also the truth, which is relevant to the question of perjury. It really does depend on what the definition of "is" is — he correctly said that, at the time he was asked an irrelevant question when giving a deposition, there "is" (that is was at the time) no sexual relationship involving Lewinsky and him. Under oath, he didn't say there never had been one. Of course he lied when he wasn't under oath, but that's not perjury.

    So to argue that Thomas should be impeached and Clinton shouldn't have been impeached, one must make the distinction between lying under oath (perjury) and lying on TV. Clinton was impeached for a true, but misleading, statement made under oath in response to an irrelevant (according to the trial judge) question asked by lawyers litigating a manifestly unfounded frivolous suit. Now discussing fairly recent history is fine, but, next time, learn the facts before you type.

  13. Mr Waldman:

    Is it really "perfectly clear" that no sexual harassment has taken place if an employer exposes himself to an employee and requests a sex act? (No, I'm not saying that it happened, or didn't happen, but that's my recollection of the allegations.) Maybe Judge Wright made the right call, but I remember a fair bit of surprise at the time when the dismissal happened.

    You said: "Clinton’s statement under oath was also the truth, which is relevant to the question of perjury." To the extent that you are making a general claim that Clinton never lied in connection with teh Jones v. Clinton case, I think that is wrong.

    In fact, Bill Clinton was found to have committed perjury in Jones v. Clinton. Moreover, it is clear that he flat-out lied. Here is a link to page 78 of his deposition transcript – http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/03/13/jones.v… And here is a link to the relevant definition – http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/03/13/jones.v

    I doubt that Clinton should have been impeached for lying about his cheating. But he certainly lied while under oath.

  14. "the R’s are just really good at playing the game. Truth, justice, etc., etc. has nothing to do with anything. Whatever route you take to get to the desired destination is fine. Filibuster when it suits, demand an “up or down vote” when it suits… Whatever. If it works, go with it. That’s the strategy. I wish “our team” would be more aggressive about it, but I fear that the next time the tables are turned (that we’re back in a Thomas confirmation setting), some fraction of Dems will feel compelled to be “reasonable” and we’ll lose again. "

    >Stands, golf claps.Sits. Pulls out notepad. Writes note to self to remember it.Slaps forehead and exclaims:

    "Why didn't I say that?!?"<

    *Exeunt*

  15. "Thomas, there’s a difference between lying about sex and covering up sexual harassment. The subsequent revelations about Thomas’ mendacity don’t show that he harassed Anita Hill, but they completely undermine the credibility of his denials."

    Shall we talk about Broadrick in that case? The outcome of Clinton's cases showed that the left wasn't willing to apply the strict version of its then-proposed sexual harassment laws and judgments. That is great, as the balance being proposed at the time was too far anyway.

    Besides, the statement you quote is about employees, not non-employee girlfriends. I'm relatively sure that someone, somewhere, could make the case that some people use more sexualized language with their girlfriends than they do with their employees. In fact we might even make the case that being more sexually graphic with your girlfriend than your employees is appropriate.

  16. "Bill Clinton was found to have committed perjury in Jones v. Clinton."

    Found by whom? Not by the House Judiciary Committee, which didn't include this allegation in the articles of impeachment. Not by the special prosecutor's office, which decided not to indict Clinton for perjury.

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