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Anita Hill: Why Black women are overlooked as Supreme Court nominees

September 29, 2020, 10:50 PM UTC

Anita Hill, the lawyer best known for testifying at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, says there’s a reason that Black women are overlooked as Supreme Court nominees. And it’s a problem that extends well beyond the legal industry. “People pick people who look like them,” Hill said.

Moreover, Hill said many nominees initially gain attention while working at corporate law firms. But many women of color don’t take that path, and therefore aren’t considered for the court later in their careers. “We need to think more broadly about who is qualified to be a judge,” she said during an online interview at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.

Hill’s comments come as the Trump administration hurries to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died at age 87 on Sept. 18. Earlier this week, Trump nominated Federal Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the open position. Before announcing the nomination, Trump released a short list of candidates—none of whom were Black women.

Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, likened the problems faced by Black women and women of color to the “glass ceiling” that many women experience in nearly all fields. She said women often lack access to the decision-makers and that they’re often undervalued. Therefore, it’s easier for leaders to pick people within their own circles for promotions or jobs.

During her interview on Tuesday, Hill also discussed her work with the Hollywood Commission, a group she chairs along with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw. The commission aims to help the entertainment industry define and implement policies that would eliminate sexual harassment and bias. 

On Tuesday, the commission released results from a survey of more than 9,600 people in the entertainment industry from November 2019 to February 2020. The key finding: Workers generally have a dismal view of the accountability measures put in place to combat sexual misconduct.

“When you look at what that means is that ultimately people will not come forward,” she said. “Either they don’t think people will be held accountable or they think that they’re going to be retaliated against.” 

Hill said the report is one of four that will be published in upcoming months.