Nation

Lawyer accuses Justice Thomas of groping her at a 1999 party

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2012.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2012.

WASHINGTON — An Alaska lawyer has accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of groping her at a dinner party in 1999, a claim that Thomas called “preposterous.”

The lawyer, Moira Smith, who was a 23-year-old Truman Foundation scholar at the time, told The National Law Journal that Thomas had “sort of cupped his hand around my butt and pulled me pretty close to him” as she was making final preparations for the party, in a Washington suburb.

Thomas, continuing to squeeze her buttocks, urged her to sit next to him at the dinner, Smith said. She declined. He asked if she was sure, Smith recalled. “I said yes, and that was the end of it,” she said.

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Through a court spokeswoman, Thomas told The National Law Journal that the episode “never happened.” The spokeswoman, Kathleen L. Arberg, said she had nothing to add to that statement.

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Thomas, 68, took his seat on the court 25 years ago after a searing confirmation battle that also featured accusations of sexual harassment.

Smith, who is now general counsel of Enstar Natural Gas, declined a request for an interview. But in a statement, she said that while she had felt powerless at the time of the groping, “17 years later, it is clear that sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault continue to be pervasive, having an impact on all women.” She added, “I choose to speak out now in the hope that this will change.”

In the National Law Journal article, Smith said her public accusation was prompted by the disclosure this month of a 2005 recording in which Donald Trump boasted about kissing women without their consent and groping them.

She said she might have been flattered by the attention of a Supreme Court justice had he not been so aggressive. “But it felt somewhat menacing, and I felt vulnerable,” she told Marcia Coyle, a reporter.

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Three of Smith’s former housemates and her former husband said Smith had told them about the episode soon after it happened, according to The National Law Journal. But several guests at the dinner — which awards scholarships to young people who plan to pursue a career in public service — said they had no recollection of any inappropriate behavior.

In Thomas’ confirmation hearing in 1991, Anita Hill, a law professor who had worked for Thomas before he became a judge, said he had tried to date her, used sexual innuendo and described pornographic movies in vivid detail.

Thomas, then a federal appeals court judge, responded to the accusations with fury. “This is a circus,” he said. “It’s a national disgrace.”