Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Anita Hill

Biden’s Baggage

Credit: Rex/Shutterstock

I started writing Biden’s Baggage weeks ago. At the time, there seemed to be just a trickle of information about his record on issues that are pivotal in this election. Issues of endless wars, mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, race and gender equality are all in play in the 2020 Presidential election. Suddenly, what was a trickle of bad news for Biden became an avalanche.

At the first televised Democratic debate, Biden did little to stem the tide of bad press. He seemed to fumble his answers on his 2002 Iraq war vote. He could not defend his opposition to integration and cozy relationships with segregationists. Three issues not even addressed in the debate are Biden’s leadership in creating mass incarceration, his inconsistent support for a woman’s right to choose and his dastardly treatment of Professor Anita Hill.

Why Are We Here?

This is Joe Biden’s third run for President. He first ran in 1988 and dropped out in disgrace after being accused of multiples instances of plagarism. Biden ran again in 2008 and dropped out after the Iowa Caucus. He won less than 1% of the delegates there. According to the Washington Post, it was a year in which voters said they were seeking change and Biden “struck Iowans as a little too familiar, fixtures of a Washington establishment that had grown stale from years of gridlock and partisan infighting.”

Joe Biden’s current cache stems solely from his role as Vice President to Barack Hussein Obama. But let’s be clear: Obama’s candidacy was so extraordinary and inspiring, we could care less who he picked as his Vice President. President Obama had a blank check. He could have written in Bozo the Clown and we would have said okay. Certainly Biden did not disappoint as the Vice President. But make no mistake about it: Barack and Michelle Obama excelled as the first couple and they didn’t need Joe Biden to do it.

Too Much to Overcome?

To be fair, Joe Biden is known as an ardent advocate for middle class America and the rights of workers. Since 2015, he has supported the ideas of free college and $15 hour/minimum wage. He introduced the first-ever climate bill in 1986 and understands that climate change is an existential threat to our future.

Still, while Joe Biden wants to talk about his achievements as Vice President, he has all this baggage. Indeed, the rest of us are looking at his record in the U.S. Senate. Biden voted for the Iraq war in 2002. Some consider that vote his “blackest mark” in his foreign policy past, and an “Achilles’ heel” of his candidacy. Based on blatant lies about “weapons of mass destruction,” the war cost us more than a trillion dollars and plunged Iraq into a devastating civil war. Biden apparently knew it was a lie but went with it anyway.

The Author of Mass Incarceration

Joe Biden has a long record of leadership creating the mass incarceration that continues to decimate Black and Brown communities. Over a 10-year period, Biden wrote multiple “measures to increase incarceration and prisons. He advocated for tougher prison sentences for drug offenses, particularly crack cocaine, despite its inherent racist impact.

In 1984, Biden worked with racist segregationist hero Sen. Strom Thurmond to expand federal drug trafficking penalties and civil asset forfeiture. Biden wrote and sponsored the 1986 crime bill that created sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In 1989, he delivered a drug policy address that called for more police, more prosecutors and longer sentences. Biden helped write the 1994 federal crime bill that increased sentences and funding for state prisons. He sometimes refers to it as “the Biden Crime Law.

The Enabler of Clarence Thomas

Biden claims that he “did everything in my power to defeat Clarence Thomas.” The actual history is very different. It has long been known that Biden cut a deal with Republican Sen. John Danforth, Thomas’ main sponsor, to end the 1991 confirmation hearings quickly. Biden told a group of women legislators that he had promised Danforth “in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.”

Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and six other female Democrats asked Biden to conduct a complete investigation and delay Thomas’ confirmation. Instead, Biden kept his word to Danforth. Biden refused to allow three other women who would have corroborated Anita Hill‘s testimony to testify. Schroeder says “[T]o have railroaded that through and not listen to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear [Anita Hill] apart was absolutely horrible.” Anita Hill believes that the #METOO movement might have begun in 1991 if Joe Biden had done his job. Anita has “made it clear that Biden is not her candidate for President.”

Pro-Choice or Not?

In this time, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body is being taken away. Joe Biden is seen by many as “the unreliable pro-choice advocate.” Here’s why:

1970s-80: Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding of abortions

1977: Biden supported the toughest anti-abortion measure ever – an amendment to deny abortions in cases of incest and rape

1981: He proposed the Biden Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act which continues to bar U.S. aid from being used for biomedical research related to abortions

1982: He voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade

1983: Biden voted five times to bar the Federal Employees Health Benefits program from funding abortions for federal employees

1988: He voted against adding a rape and incest exception to the Hyde Amendment

As late as 2003, Joe Biden’s score on support for abortion rights by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America was only 36%. It improved to 100% in more recent years, starting in 2006. The question is whether we can count on him to fight the battle for a woman’s right to choose or will he revert back to “states’ rights?”

A Supporter of “States Rights”

In fact, on Thursday, June 27, 2019, Joe Biden reverted to “states’ rights.” When challenged by Sen. Kamala Harris about his opposition to busing to integrate schools, Joe went back to his roots: “states’ rights.” The unmasking of Biden’s baggage on the issue of race is now complete.

Biden led the fight against school busing for at least a decade. He sponsored numerous measures to stop busing, working with notorious racist segregationists. In 1975, after Sen. Jesse Helms‘ amendment failed, Biden crafted his own bill to bar federal funds to help school districts integrate.

Sen. Edward Brooke (R. Mass.) (Credit: Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Brooke, the first Black man elected to the U.S. Senate after Reconstruction, called Biden’s bill “the greatest symbolic defeat for civil rights since 1964.”

Joe Biden’s baggage is real and should weigh heavily in any consideration of his candidacy for President. We owe those who fought on the right side of history to make the country a better place at least that much. #BlackWomenLead

#METOO WorldWide Movement

#METOO – “Ain’t I A Woman”

The Worldwide #METOO Movement came to Berkeley this week. Fifty speakers came from around the world to talk about global resistance to sexual harassment and violence. I am honored to participate in the conversation and the ongoing struggle against oppression based on gender.

The most important insight that I can contribute about resistance to sexual harassment and violence is that it is deeply rooted in the intersectional oppression and resistance of Black women.” And so I started to engage with this amazing group of activists, lawyers, professors and students. We are all committed to moving #METOO beyond the popular hashtag into real challenge and change. We must honor and appreciate the roots of this movement as we move “forward and beyond.”

The title “Ain’t I A Woman” goes back to Sojourner Truth’s famous speech on May 29, 1851 in Akron, Ohio. She spoke from her heart and the pain of slavery to challenge white women to “see” her. In 1981, Professor Bell Hooks in her famous book, “Ain’t I A Woman” challenged contemporary white feminists to “recognize” Black women in “their” movement. Ten years later, in 1991, Anita Hill‘s riveting testimony before an all white male Judiciary Committee (headed by Uncle Joe Biden) gave voice to the outrage of women everywhere. After that hearing, the battle cry was “I believe Anita Hill.”

#BlackWomenBuiltThat

The oppression and resistance of Black women created the
law of sexual harassment. In the fall of 1977, I joined the sexual harassment lawsuit called Alexander v. Yale. My political science professor sexually propositioned me. Yale’s band leader raped Ronni Alexander. Ronni’s case was dismissed. Mine was not. As a 21-year-old Black woman, I became the lead plaintiff in the first sexual harassment lawsuit ever litigated in this country in education. We gave sexual harassment a name and made Title IX apply to it.

I was not alone. In 1976, Diane R. Williams, a 23-year-old Black woman attorney won her sexual harassment case against the Dept. of Justice. Diane persisted after the case was overturned on appeal. She started fighting her case in 1972 and kept fighting until she finally won in 1980. Her case was among the first in employment to say that “quid pro quid” sexual harassment is sex discrimination.

Paulette L. Barnes, a Black woman, filed and lost her case against the federal government in 1974. Paulette persisted. On July 27, 1977, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled that it was illegal to fire a woman who refused a supervisor’s advances. On the West Coast, Margaret Miller, a Black woman, sued Bank of America for sexual harassment. Margaret lost her case in the district court in 1976. But she persisted. She finally won her case in June 1979.

“Anita Hill’s Grandmother”

Sandra Bundy in 2018 (Credit: Lexey Swall)

Sandra Bundy‘s case was the first federal appeals court case to clearly say that sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. Sandra sued the federal government in 1977. She lost at trial in 1979 and fought until she won in 1981. Because of Sandra Bundy, women everywhere can say that sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. As a result, in 1986, Mechelle Vinson, a Black woman, won her hostile work environment case in the United States Supreme Court. She fought her case for almost 10 years, from 1978 to 1987.

From #METOO to #SayHerName

Fast forward 30 years to October 2017. That month, actress Ashley Judd went public with her story of sexual harassment by powerful Hollywood icon, Harvey Weinstein. Soon after that, Actress Alyssa Milano tweets “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” #METOO goes viral worldwide.

Tarana Burke, 2018. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tarana Burke, a Black woman activist, created the phrase “MeToo” and an organization in 2006 to empower survivors of sexual violence. The worldwide #METOO movement to fight sexual harassment and sexual violence springs again from our oppression and our resistance.

It was my privilege this week to share our history with women and men from around the world. At last year’s conference, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw shared this herstory. Professor Crenshaw’s work on the urgency of intersectionality clearly points the way forward for our #METOO global movement. Black women must not be invisible in this movement. We are the veins in the “kaleidoscope of butterflies” that Professor Catherine MacKinnon so beautifully describes that gives our movement wings. Our power lies in our collective effort.

Pamela Price & Joelle Dzukou Epse Nwabueze
UC Berkeley Law School, 2019

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