Republican Senator Slams Biden's SCOTUS Pick for Record on Sex Crimes

President Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson / Getty Images
March 17, 2022

Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) on Wednesday slammed Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's lenient treatment of sex offenders.

Hawley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued in a lengthy thread that Jackson's record as a policymaker and a judge shows an "alarming pattern" of letting sex criminals off the hook. That includes reducing sentences for child pornography offenders and questioning whether sex offenders should be forced to enroll in publicly accessible registries.

"Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker," Hawley tweeted Wednesday. "She's been advocating for it since law school. This goes beyond 'soft on crime.' I'm concerned that this [is] a record that endangers our children."

Hawley's thread comes as Republican lines of attack against Jackson are beginning to take shape. While Republicans are not actively collaborating on a single message surrounding Jackson's nomination, the nationwide spike in violent crime is expected to play a central role in their opposition. Hawley's salvo is a natural complement to that theme.

As a law student at Harvard, Jackson wrote a student note that argued for a legal framework that would leave certain sex offender penalties, such as registry enrollment or civil commitment, exposed to constitutional challenges. And she noted that a "climate of fear, hatred, and revenge" is associated with the release of sex offenders from prison.

Hawley also said Jackson routinely gave child pornography defendants reduced sentences as a judge on the Washington, D.C., federal trial court.

In a representative case, U.S. v. Sears, the defendant was convicted of possessing over 100 child porn videos and sending lewd pictures of his own daughter, a minor. The sentencing guidelines call for a 97- to 121-month sentence. Jackson gave him 71 months, or just under six years, according to Hawley. In another case, U.S. v. Chazin, the defendant possessed about 50 child porn files and received a 28-month sentence from Jackson. The sentencing guidelines call for 78 to 97 months.

Republican lawmakers are pushing to obtain records from Jackson's tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which could reveal if and how the judge pushed for changes in sex offender sentencing.

The Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan body that sets sentencing practices for the federal courts. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said lawmakers have received open source materials, such as hearing transcripts or guidelines volumes, but have not received internal documents such as emails and memos. Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Judge Jackson's service on the sentencing commission is an important part of her experience, so her records there must be part of a thorough review. This request falls squarely within the committee’s normal practices," Grassley said at a March 10 hearing.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who is Justice Stephen Breyer's brother, is the acting chairman of the Sentencing Commission.