The Alaskan lawyer who claimed Justice Clarence Thomas groped her at a social event in the 1990s on Saturday reflected on the personal toll that comes with publicly accusing powerful men of misconduct and questioned whether speaking out was worth the anguish.
In an opinion article in the Anchorage Daily News, the lawyer, Moira Smith, revisited her experience in 2016 when she accused Thomas of inappropriately touching her at a dinner party in Virginia in 1999. The National Law Journal first published Smith’s claims. Thomas, who called Smith’s claim “preposterous,” denied any misconduct.
“My darkest moment came in Alaska’s darkest season. Up in the early hours, alone with my own thoughts, I realized I’d been naïve. Other than the stark denials from Justice Thomas’s defenders, nothing happened, ” Smith wrote in her op-ed. “ There was a lot of talk about believing women, about the progress we’ve made, but when the stakes are high enough, we’re still willing to ignore their voices or shout them down.”
Smith, vice president and general counsel to Enstar Gas Co., said she shares an “unfortunate fate” with Anita Hill and now with Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has claimed U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in suburban Washington during their high school years.
“Reluctantly, and at a personal cost, we have all accused a sitting or prospective U.S. Supreme Court justice of sexual misconduct. The question we and other women who have accused powerful men carry, quietly, is whether it was worth it,” Smith wrote in her op-ed. Smith said she was approached by the Alaska paper to write about her reflections on her speaking out against Thomas.
Kavanaugh has insisted he did not sexually assault Ford or any other woman. The nominee, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has agreed to testify next week at his re-opened confirmation hearing. Ford’s lawyers were negotiating the possibility she, too, would testify.
Ford first aired her claims against Kavanaugh in a Washington Post story published on Sept. 16. The Post said Ford debated whether to come forward with her allegations. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” Ford told the Post.
In her opinion article, Smith said she struggled with whether to speak with The National Law Journal in 2016 about her claims, which she first made in a Facebook post. That post, which the NLJ saw, identified Thomas by name. Smith, a former Truman Foundation scholar, was attending a dinner party at a private home in Virginia when she claimed Thomas groped her.
“I knew that as soon as I did, the most interesting thing about me would be the thing I’d like most to forget,” Smith wrote in her op-ed. “I would lose the quiet dignity of my family and professional life, even in a place as far away as Alaska. I suspected, though I did not fully understand, Justice Thomas’s defenders would be swift, ruthless and prepared.”
Smith said she decided to come forward despite her concerns about how airing her claims would disrupt her life.
“I have a young daughter and a young son. I wanted to play a tiny role in changing how these matters were handled when they get older. And I spoke up because of who my accused is; the nation deserved to know,” Smith wrote.
Smith did not have eyewitnesses. Smith said she did tell several friends at the time about the incident, and the NLJ contacted those friends, who confirmed that Smith had talked with them about what she said happened.
After the NLJ article was published, Smith said, she focused on her job and her family. She said the commentary about her claims—that she lied or that she had political motivations—”worked their way into my heart and brain. I’d unquestionably experienced what happened. But I wouldn’t be believed.”
Ultimately, her Facebook post may have had the greatest impact, according to Smith. Countless close friends and acquaintances in her community, Smith said, told her their own stories, and some took the additional step of reporting to the authorities. Smith said she was encouraged by the spread of the #MeToo movement.
“In my more optimistic moments, I like to think that my contribution to this conversation might have pushed it forward in some small way. But, now, as the country is faced with the important question of whether to believe Ford, a woman who is risking her privacy, credibility, career, and even personal safety, I find myself thinking of what this must be like for her personally,” Smith wrote. “I wonder if, in her darker moments, she regrets it. Because I still ask myself if it was worth it for me. And, to be honest, I’m not sure.”