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GOP Senator Questions Jackson’s Sentencing in Child Porn Cases

March 21, 2022, 6:49 PM

Republican Senator Josh Hawley said he intends to question Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about the sentences she meted out in child pornography cases, a line of attack on the Supreme Court nominee that many legal experts have labeled misleading.

“In each of these seven, Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended and below what prosecutors requested,” Hawley, of Missouri, said in his opening statement for Jackson’s confirmation hearing Monday. “I think there’s a lot to talk about there.”

Jackson didn’t have an opportunity to respond, but she will deliver her opening statement later in the day.

Sentencing experts and lawyers, including a prominent conservative, have called Hawley’s argument that Jackson has been soft on sex crimes through her comments and sentences in child pornography cases misleading at best.

Writing in the National Review, Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor with experience in child pornography cases, called Hawley’s argument “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

The White House and Senate Democrats have pushed back hard against Hawley’s criticism, which he had made public before the hearing. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said before Hawley spoke, “I’m likely to be followed by one or more colleagues who have raised allegations about your record that are simply unfounded in fact and indeed irresponsible. They’re unproven and unprovable. They’re simply false.”

Law professors and researchers with sentencing-commission experience wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee that they found Hawley’s argument “without merit.”

Noting that judges have criticized guidelines as being too harsh in “non-production” cases, meaning cases not involving porn producers, they wrote that any below-guidelines sentences she imposed in those cases “proves only that she is informed by the best available learning on the subject and is in step with her colleagues nationally who sit as federal district court judges.”

In a post at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, one of those experts who wrote to the committee, Professor Douglas Berman, noted that prosecutors in several of the cases Hawley pointed to recommended below-guidelines sentences. He said it looked like her sentences were in the mainstream.

Hawley said Monday he thinks Jackson has a “coherent view” and she deserves to share her answers to his questions at the hearings, which will be Tuesday and Wednesday. Jackson was a federal district judge and now sits as an appellate judge in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jordan Rubin in Arlington at jrubin90@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at ewasserman2@bloomberg.net

Joe Sobczyk

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.