February 09, 2015

Historian to discuss letters on Thomas nomination

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Letters that then-U.S. Sen. Paul Simon received from constituents regarding a highly controversial nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court will be the focus of a discussion next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Katherine Scott, assistant historian of the U.S. Senate, will present “Dear Senator Simon: Letters on the Clarence Thomas Nomination,” at 4:30 p.m., Feb. 17. The lecture is at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 1231 Lincoln Drive, in the old U.S. Forestry Building. 

The presentation is open to the public but space is limited. Due to meal considerations, guests should register no later than Friday, Feb. 13, to Delio Calzolari, associate director, at delio@siu.edu or 618/453-4001. 

Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush in July 1991, was involved in a heated confirmation hearing. Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, alleged sexual harassment by Thomas, who at one time was her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Reports estimate more than 20 million households watched the Judiciary Committee proceedings. 

Simon, a member of the senate’s Judiciary Committee at the time, opposed Thomas’ selection at the hearing and final Senate vote. Thomas was approved 52-48, the closest confirmation in the nation’s history. 

“During this very controversial process, Sen. Simon was not only one of the 100 senators who would vote on the ultimate confirmation of Thomas, but he was a member of the Judiciary Committee,” Calzolari said. “Communication from Illinoisans to Sen. Simon are further intriguing because he and his close U.S. Senate colleague, Sen. Alan Dixon, representing the same group of constituents, voted differently on the confirmation.” 

Scott’s discussion, from her research into Simon’s papers at SIU Carbondale, will be about what “constituent letters tell us about sex, women and politics in the late 20th century America,” Calzolari said.

“Research into these letters has been fascinating,” Scott said. “Not since the Watergate investigation in 1973 had Americans been so fascinated by congressional hearings. These letters illustrate what those senators, including Sen. Simon, were hearing from their constituents.” 

Scott is also an adjunct professor with Cornell University in Washington, D.C.  She earned a doctorate in American history from Temple University. Her book “Reining in the State: Civil Society and Congress in the Vietnam and Watergate Eras,” was published by the Univer­sity Press of Kansas in 2013. 

Scott is editing the executive sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Com­mittee 1969-1975, and collecting oral histories of former Church Committee staff to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the formation of that committee.  Some of the Paul Simon Papers research may be in her book tentatively titled, “Storming the Old Boys Club: Sex, Politics in Anita Hill’s America.” 

For more information on the program, contact the institute at 618/453-4009 or visit paulsimoninstitute.siu.edu/.