Kavanaugh’s path forward could be like Justice Clarence Thomas’

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Clarence Thomas arrived at the Supreme Court in 1991 after a bruising confirmation hearing in which his former employee Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, fellow justice Byron White said something that stuck with him.

“It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters now is what you do here,” Thomas recounted in his 2007 memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son.”

That view could be tested again if lawmakers confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is facing allegations by college professor Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when both were in high school. Kavanaugh, who like Thomas has denied the allegation against him, is scheduled to appear before lawmakers at a hearing Monday, with the outcome of his nomination uncertain.

If Kavanaugh does become a justice, court watchers will be looking to see whether his smooth-turned-tumultuous confirmation affects him on the bench and whether having two justices who faced allegations about their treatment of women alters the public’s perception of the court, particularly on future rulings about abortion and gender discrimination.

One thing that could shape how Kavanaugh emerges from the confirmation process is whether Ford appears at Monday’s hearing. Ford’s lawyer has proposed a hearing next Thursday instead without Kavanaugh in the room, but no final decision has been made.

Thomas’ high-profile public showdown with Hill came to define his confirmation process, which he has called a “nightmare” and which Hill has called a “bane which I have worked hard to transform into a blessing.” Those who have studied or know Thomas say his confirmation didn’t change the kind of justice Thomas has become. He is now 70 and the most conservative member of the current court. But some suggest that — rightly or wrongly — it affected his public and private reception, particularly in his early years as a justice.

Ralph A. Rossum, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of a 2013 book about Thomas’ legal philosophy, said Thomas’ “long and withering” confirmation didn’t make him any less willing to write unpopular opinions or interpret the Constitution as he sees it.

“What it didn’t do is influence him on the bench,” said Rossum, who pointed to a dissent Thomas wrote shortly after joining the court, a case where only he and Justice Antonin Scalia would have ruled against an inmate beaten in prison.

But Rossum said Thomas’ confirmation experience did seemingly make him “more gun-shy to be in public.”

“I think he was always a private man, and it made him even more of a private man,” Rossum said.