Senate

Jackson pushes back on GOP focus on child porn cases

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
Greg Nash

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, pushed back at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing against Republicans focusing on her rulings in child porn cases, which has been a significant focus of GOP questions over the past two days. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), one of several GOP senators who have raised the cases, pressed Jackson multiple times on if she regretted a three-month sentence that she gave in one of the cases, saying that he viewed it as a “slap on the wrist.” 

“What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” Jackson told Hawley after he asked multiple times if she regretted it. 

When Hawley asked Jackson about whether she used sentencing enhancements, Jackson said that she had already answered the question. 

“Senator, I’ve answered this question many times from many senators who have already asked me, so I’ll stand on what I’ve already said,” Jackson said. 

Jackson added that “no one case can stand in for my entire record.” 

Hawley first raised concerns about Jackson’s rulings on sex-related cases, including child porn offenders. 

He’s one of several GOP senators who have raised the issue during the two days of questions, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who both raised the issue earlier Wednesday. 

Hawley skipped the tangling with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that marked tense interactions between Cruz and Durbin. 

Instead, he wrapped up his back-and-forth with Jackson saying that had a “pretty fundamental” disagreement on how she issued sentences during the cases.  

“I just think we disagree,” he said.

Some of the tensest moments in the days-long hearing have been tied to Jackson’s rulings in sex-related crimes, including child porn offenders.

Republicans have homed in on characterizing Jackson as “soft on crime,” sparking pushback from Democrats who have accused of trying to use the hearing as campaign fodder both for 2022, when they are trying to win back control of Congress, and 2024, to use against Biden. 

Graham, ramping up tensions earlier Wednesday, told Jackson that he thought she was “doing it wrong” regarding her decisions on child porn cases. 

“And every judge who is doing what you’re doing is making it easier for children to be exploited,” Graham told Jackson. 

Democrats fumed over Graham’s handling of Jackson, who was one of three GOP senators who previously voted for Jackson for her influential circuit court seat last year. Graham hasn’t said how he will vote yet, but he’s widely expected to be a no. 

Durbin also cut off Cruz when he tried to go over his allotted 20 minutes to keep questioning Jackson, telling him: “You have to follow the rules.” 

Republicans are pushing for the committee to get copies of the pre-sentencing reports related to Jackson’s cases related to child porn, with 10 GOP senators sending a letter to Durbin on Wednesday. 

“We are asking that you adjourn the nomination hearing until you produce all documents and information that you have regarding sentencing and probation recommendations in Judge Jackson’s criminal cases that have not been shared with Republican members of the Committee,” the 10 GOP senators wrote. 

“In particular, please provide (1) the pre-sentence report associated with each case sentenced by Judge Jackson that involved charges concerning child pornography,” they added. 

Given the sensitive nature of the reports, GOP senators also told Durbin during the hearing that they would be willing to view them in a redacted nature or in a classified setting, but argued that the information was needed to understand Jackson’s sentencing. 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was the one GOP senator who did not sign onto the letter to Durbin.

“Senator Cruz is raising an important process issue on document production; like Senator Sasse said at the outset of this hearing, he’s going to continue to dive into Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy because, as an originalist, he believes judicial philosophy is the central issue of this nomination,” said James Wegmann, a spokesman for Sasse. 

Durbin shot down the GOP request, calling getting the pre-sentencing reports would be unprecedented for the committee and establish a new precedent that he warned could negatively impact victims of child porn crimes. 

“It’s merely a fishing expedition in dangerous territory … This has never happened in the history of this committee,” Durbin said. 

He added that he thought the GOP request was “dangerous to the victims” and “unnecessary at this point.” 

“We have exhausted this topic,” Durbin added.

Updated at 5:47 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Confirmation hearings Dick Durbin Joe Biden Josh Hawley Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham SCOTUS Supreme Court Ted Cruz

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