Jackson confirmation hearing: Democrats push back on GOP Sen. Hawley's 'smear'

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat opened the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday by brushing away attacks from Republicans who claimed she had been too lenient on “child porn offenders.”

The committee's chair, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., referred to the allegation in his opening remarks. And by way of rebutting it, he cited an unlikely source: Andrew McCarthy, a conservative former prosecutor and National Review columnist.

In a series of tweets last week, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he had discovered an “alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”

"In every single child porn case for which we can find records, Judge Jackson deviated from the federal sentencing guidelines in favor of child porn offenders," Hawley tweeted Thursday.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

During his opening statement Monday, Hawley listed seven cases involving Jackson that he was concerned about, and added that he was eager to hear her response.

“Some have asked why did I raise these questions ahead of the hearing, why not wait until the hearing and spring them on Judge Jackson, as it were, and my answer to that is very simple: I’m not interested in trapping Judge Jackson, I’m not trying to play ‘gotcha,’ I’m interested in her answers,” Hawley said.

“Because I found in our time together that she was enormously thoughtful, enormously accomplished, and I suspect has a coherent view, an explanation and a way of thinking I look forward to hearing.”

Durbin followed Hawley by saying Jackson “deserves to be heard on that type of a charge.” In the final opening statement of the day, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., included the allegation of going light on child porn offenders in a list of other attacks on the nominee.

Multiple analyses of Jackson’s record have concluded that Hawley’s criticism of her was misleading. And former federal prosecutor McCarthy called the Missouri senator’s allegation against Jackson “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

While opposing Jackson’s nomination, McCarthy wrote that “the implication that [Jackson] has a soft spot for ‘sex offenders’ who ‘prey on children’ because she argued against a severe mandatory-minimum prison sentence for the receipt and distribution of pornographic images is a smear.”

Speaking to reporters Monday morning on his way to the first hearing, Hawley said he wanted to hear about Jackson's record on sentencing and “child porn cases, in particular.” Liberal pundits have argued that his line of attack echoes the QAnon conspiracy theory, which falsely accuses Democrats of running child sex-trafficking rings.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., at the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing on Judge Jackson's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., at Jackson's confirmation hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Other Democrats during Monday’s hearing, such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also referenced McCarthy’s article.

“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,” Blumenthal said, speaking immediately before Hawley. “They're unproven and unprovable. They're simply false.”

Given the Democratic majority in the Senate, Jackson is widely expected to be confirmed to replace the retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, a fact acknowledged by some Republicans on Monday. But she must first make her way through the Judiciary Committee, which includes several GOP senators who are thought to have presidential aspirations, such as Hawley and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The Senate confirmed Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last summer by a 53-44 vote. Three Republicans voted for her confirmation at the time: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Graham, however, has signaled that he won’t back Jackson this time around, calling her nomination a win for the “radical Left.”

“Sen. Hawley, you need to ask her about her record as a district court judge. You should, I hope you do,” Graham said in his opening remarks Monday. “And we'll see what she says.”