President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee appeared to ever so slightly lose her cool with Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) during her confirmation hearing Wednesday, accusing the Missouri Republican of harping on a “small subset” of her record.
The subset in question deals with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record of giving more lenient sentences to those who distributed or were found in possession of child pornography.
Hawley and several other Republican senators have repeatedly grilled the nominee about her record in this area over the past few days.
“This is a case where you had an 18-year-old who possessed and distributed hundreds of images of eight-year-olds and nine-year-olds and 10-year-olds, and you gave him, frankly, a slap on the wrist sentence of three months,” Hawley said. “Do you regret it?”
“I don’t remember whether it was distribution or possession,” began Jackson, before Hawley interjected, “It was both, do you regret it?”
“In the law, there are different crimes that people commit in this area,” she began again.
“Judge, you gave him three months,” Hawley said again. “My question is, do you regret it or not?”
“Senator,” Jackson said slowly, “what I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we have spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences, and I’ve tried to explain—”
“You regret that we’re focusing on your cases?” Hawley queried. “I don’t understand.”
“No, I’m talking about the fact that you’re talking about seven very serious cases,” she continued, “some of which involve conduct that I sentenced people to 25 [or] 30 years—”
“Three months, in this case, judge,” Hawley reminded her. “Do you regret it? You haven’t answered my question yet. Do you regret this sentence?”
“Senator, I would have to look at the circumstances,” she responded.
Hawley interrupted the judge to remind her that they discussed the circumstances for half an hour on Tuesday during Jackson’s confirmation hearing, noting that there is a “55-page transcript, which I’m sure you’ve read.”
“As you’ve emphasized to this committee over and over, you’ve lived it, right? You said you’ve been through all of this, you’ve looked at all of the images, you’re the one who’s had to endure all of it. You gave him a three month sentence. I just wonder if you regret it or if you stand by it?”
Jackson told Hawley that to the best of her ability, she looked at all of the “factors that apply, that constrain judges, that give us discretion, but also tell us how to sentence. And I ruled in every case based on all of the relevant factors.”
“So, you don’t regret it?” Hawley asked, prompting the judge to look down at the desk before her and emit a sigh of apparent frustration.
“I’m asking if you regret this sentence in this case, and it sounds like the answer is no,” he told her. “But I want to to tell you, I regret it. … Let me read to you what you said about these kinds of cases … to this defendant.”
You said, “Make no mistake, Mr. Hawkins, the children you saw in those pictures were not willing participants in the conduct that you witnessed. They were being forced commit unspeakable acts of sexual violence for the pleasure of the person who was filming, and for the gratification of sick people everywhere, people who apparently have no shred of empathy for what this must be doing to the children who are being abused in this way.” You go on, “Some of the children you saw in those pictures will never have a normal adult relationship. Some of them will turn to drugs and prostitution and other vices to try to deal emotionally with the pain that results from the torture that they have experienced. And even those who manage to lead a somewhat normal, adult life say they live in constant fear of being recognized. Some people are even unable to leave their houses because once those pictures are on the internet, they are there forever. And the victims can’t do anything without worrying that every person that they meet has seen them in their most vulnerable state at the most horrible time in their lives.”
“Powerful words, judge,” Hawley emphasized, “I just don’t understand why after saying this, and believing this, you could give this guy three months in prison when the probation office that we’ve heard so much about recommended 18 months — even the probation office recommended 18 months. Do you have anything to add?”
Jackson responded, “No, senator.”