How Anita Hill’s Witnesses’ Stories Did Not Add Up: Joel Paul

Joel Paul Provided False or Incorrect Testimony about Anita Hill and his Entire Testimony Should Be Called Into Question

When Anita Hill first emerged to make her allegations against Clarence Thomas, one consistent theme of the media’s narrative was that she did not have any ideological reason to oppose Thomas. Many press reports described Hill as conservative and a Reaganite. This portrayal was apparently intended to boost her credibility. After all, what possible motive could a conservative have to lie about Thomas during his confirmation hearings?

The truth of the matter, of course, was that Hill was not a conservative, nor a Reaganite. She had deep disagreements with the Reagan administration and specifically with Thomas in the area of civil rights. It is thus no surprise that partisan Democrats surrounded her both before and at the hearings. What was a surprise was how thoroughly Hill’s team managed to hide her true beliefs at the hearings.

Hill’s witnesses adhered to the narrative of Hill as a conservative, but perhaps none more so than Joel Paul. Despite Hill having previously said that this alleged conduct was so embarrassing that she told only one person, then that she told only some of her closest friends, Paul testified that Hill told him about the harassment over a lunch at American University in 1987. Paul was a professional colleague, not a close friend, and he admitted he did not remember her mentioning Thomas by name, only that she had been harassed by a supervisor at the EEOC. But Paul went out of his way to claim that Hill must have been telling the truth because she was a conservative and in agreement with the Reagan Administration civil rights policies. Here is what Paul said under oath:

Moreover, I cannot believe that she could be politically motivated. I know from numerous conversations with her that she served faithfully in the Reagan administration, that she was generally in sync with the goals of that administration, and that she did not disagree with the overall policies of the administration. 

And again:

I recall on one occasion asking her specifically about whether she agreed with the policies of the Reagan administration specifically on civil rights issues, and I remember her saying that she didn’t have any disagreements with them.

Additionally, Paul was quoted in a TIME magazine article stating that “she is cut from the same political cloth as Thomas” and that he suspected “[s]he’s a card-carrying Republican.”

In stark contrast to Paul’s testimony, Hill later wrote the following in her memoir, Speaking Truth to Power (from the 1998 paperback edition):

  • pp. 53-54: [In 1976] I voted for Carter not so much for his political philosophy, but because he represented a kind of caring and concern about the people of the country that I found alluring. At that point, I had no developed political ideology. I had registered as a Democrat because Democratic candidates appealed to my sense of fairness. Most people in Oklahoma were Democrats and in some ways mine was a default registration. It never really occurred to me to register Republican.  . . . By the time [1980] election day approached, all of the polls favored Ronald Reagan, whom I mistrusted. The rhetoric he spun struck me as class-divisive. Even though I was enjoying some success having graduated from law school, I could not help but think that many people, family members and friends, who had not would bear much of the economic burden if Reagan was true to his word. Nevertheless, I could not believe that he would be.
  • p. 59: Nevertheless, I expressed skepticism about the administration, in light of Reagan’s rhetoric about the poor. The idea that benefits would ‘trickle down’ to the poor if the rich were assisted by tax breaks and the like struck me as foolish.
  • p. 67: It was clear to me that Thomas and I disagreed on the importance of the Brown decision and its role in the continuing protection of the civil rights agenda. . . I assumed that Thomas and I operated in an atmosphere of mutual respect, ideological disagreements notwithstanding. 
  • p. 75: But though my misgivings about the administration were growing, I still felt that I could do good work . . . We disagreed on issues, but past EEOC policies and practices were often consistent with my thinking and I had those to fall back on when we disagreed.
  • p. 76: The administration’s rhetoric called for lessening employer responsibility in cases of harassment on the assumption that the behavior was private behavior or that it was not harmful to the victim.  Whatever the reason, the pursuit was consistent with a pro-business philosophy of the administration.  Acutely aware of this goal, I felt as though I had been dipped in a vat of scalding water as I read over the policies and cases pursued by the agency.

To further bolster his testimony about Hill’s political views, Paul claimed that she had supported the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Here is what he said under oath:

Indeed, when Judge Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in the summer of 1987, I remember vividly that Professor Hill supported his nomination and told me that she held him in extremely high esteem, as a former teacher of hers at Yale. Her strong support of Judge Bork led to a number of loud lunch table disagreements between Professor Hill and other colleagues of mine. Thus, I cannot accept the conclusion that her statements have been motivated by political ideology. (Hearing transcript, p. 279)


The only time I remember her being at all animated in a political discussion was the lunch table discussion that I referred to in my testimony, where she very strenuously defended her former mentor-teacher Judge Robert Bork. (Hearing transcript, p. 299)

And again:

Members of my faculty were, I would say, mostly opposed to the nomination, and in defending Judge Bork as she did at that time, she could not have thought she was advancing her opportunities to return to our school. She did so. She did so eloquently. She did so with tremendous force and conviction. (Hearing transcript, p. 328)

Hill later gave an interview contradicting these assertions. She made clear that she had never supported the nomination of Robert Bork. She had merely objected to the way he was treated during his hearings.

But those admissions came later. Joel Paul’s testimony had its intended effect at the time. The media and Senate Judiciary Committee bought into the narrative. Senator Kennedy, for example, said the following:

I hope we are not going to hear more about politics. You can imagine what Professor Hill would have gone through if she had been a Democrat, and we hear this afternoon she was a Bork supporter; worked in a Republican administration. I hope we are not going to hear a lot more comments about politics. I hope we are not going to hear a lot more comments about politics. (Hearing transcript, p. 308)

We will likely never know whether Paul knowingly or unknowingly provided false information to the Committee. But it is clear that Hill either lied to him, he lied about her, or he was singularly uninformed about her views. In any event, his testimony is not credible.