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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson began her second day of Supreme Court nomination hearings by defending herself against Republican accusations she had been too lenient when sentencing child porn offenders.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., used the first round of questioning Tuesday morning to let Jackson rebut the charges, which senators had mentioned in Monday’s opening session of the hearings. Two of the committee’s members — Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. — referred to cases where Jackson issued sentences on child porn offenders in her time as a federal judge, while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., encouraged his colleagues to pursue that line of questioning.
Jackson, who if confirmed would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was able to respond to the accusations for the first time on Tuesday.
"As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth,” she said when asked what was going through her head when she heard the accusations.
“These are some of the most difficult cases judges have to deal with, because we’re talking about pictures of sex abuse of children. We’re talking about graphic descriptions that judges have to read and consider when they decide how to sentence in these cases, and there’s a statute that tells judges what they’re supposed to do."
Durbin had attempted to preempt the attack in his opening statement Monday, citing an article in the conservative magazine National Review that called the allegation against Jackson “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”
Jackson detailed how she was affected by the stories of young abuse victims who had told her they couldn’t maintain normal relationships as adults, turned to drugs and could not leave their homes because of the trauma.
“In every case when I am dealing with something like this, it is important to me to make sure that the children’s perspective, the children’s voices, are represented in my sentencings,” she said.
Jackson added that when defendants attempt to argue that they are just “lookers,” who view child porn but do not participate in its creation, she tells them “about the victim statements that have come in to me as a judge.”
“I say to them that there’s only a market for this kind of material because there are lookers — that you are contributing to child sex abuse," Jackson continued. "And then I impose a significant sentence, and then all of the additional restraints that are available in the law. These people are looking at 20, 30, 40 years of supervision. They can’t use their computers in a normal way for decades. I am imposing all of those constraints because I understand how significant, how damaging, how horrible this crime is.”
In a series of tweets last week, Hawley announced his staff had discovered an “alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”
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.”
Multiple analyses of Jackson’s record have concluded that Hawley’s criticism of her was misleading. Andrew McCarthy, a conservative former prosecutor who wrote the National Review article that was referred to by Durbin and other Democrats, said 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.”
The line of attack, some argue, echoes the QAnon conspiracy theory, which falsely accuses Democrats of running child sex-trafficking rings.
With Democrats able to confirm Jackson with their 50 votes in the Senate, she is expected to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court.
The Senate confirmed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last summer by a 53-44 vote, with three Republicans voting in favor: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Graham. Graham, however, has signaled that he won’t back Jackson this time around, calling her nomination a win for the “radical left.”