Opinion Brief

Why Clarence Thomas' wife asked Anita Hill to apologize: 5 theories

Nearly two decades after her husband's ugly confirmation hearings, Virginia Thomas called up Anita Hill and asked for an apology. Why? — and why now?

Apparently, the "it's never too late" adage also applies when asking someone to apologize — at least if you're Virginia Thomas. The New York Times reports that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas left Anita Hill a voicemail earlier this month, suggesting that an "I'm sorry" might be in order for Hill's sexual harassment allegations at Thomas' 1991 confirmation hearings. "I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years," Virginia Thomas said in the message. "I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband." Hill, who is adamant that her testimony was truthful, called the voicemail "inappropriate" and "offensive." Thomas says it was a "peacemaking gesture" but offered no explanation for her timing. What motivated Thomas to act now? Five theories:

1. An important anniversaryThomas left the voicemail on Oct. 9 at 7:31 a.m. Perhaps the timing has "something to do with the recent anniversary of her husband's confirmation hearings," says Bill Chappell at NPR. "On Oct. 8, 1991, seven female House Democrats marched to the Senate, demanding that the Senate Judiciary Committee consider Hill's claims."

2. A desire to clear the family name"I can't psychoanalyze her," says David Weigel at Slate, "but in the past nine months Thomas, a frequent conservative operator, has emerged as a wanna-be Tea Party leader and TV pundit." With her increased media coverage and political prominence of late, maybe she felt it now "incumbent on her to re-engage with Hill" and "clear up that part of the Thomas family story."

3. A remarkable coincidenceThomas left the voicemail the same day that The New York Times printed a piece investigating her recent political activism and fundraising, and the possible conflicts of interest that might arise from her being the wife of a Supreme Court Justice. Surely, this "scathing front-page story" and the strange phone call "can't have anything to do with" each other... right?" asks Avi Zenilman at New York.

4. A still-raw wound"The Thomas confirmation hearings divided the country" and "widened the partisan cultural rift at play today," says Ben Smith at Politico. "Two decades on, this one hasn't healed."

5. A message in a bottleThere's only one clear explanation, says Max Read at Gawker. "Ginni Thomas was wasted at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday and got to drunk-dialing and for some reason she looked up Anita Hill's phone number." Honestly, it's the best explanation for a message that's "weird even to the people who thought Hill was lying."

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