Supreme Court: Hawley spars with Jackson over child sex predator's sentence: 'Is he the victim here?'

'I'm just trying to figure out, Judge, is he the victim here, or are the victims the victims?'

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Republican Sen. Josh Hawley sparred with Biden Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Tuesday as he continued his public questioning of Jackson’s record as it relates to sentencing decisions for child pornography convictions.

At one point in the hearing, Hawley brought up a case where an 18-year-old was sentenced to three months in prison for possessing a large quantity of child pornography and read Jackson’s comments from the sentencing where she expressed sympathy for the defendant and his family. 

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022. 

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022.  (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

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"This is something I really need your help understanding," Hawley said as he read Jackson’s words consoling the family of the defendant and saying she feels "sorry for the anguish this has caused" them. Jackson also said that she believes sex offenders are "truly shunned" in our society.

"I'm just trying to figure out, Judge, is he the victim here, or are the victims the victims?" Hawley asked.

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"Senator, again, don't have the entire record," Jackson responded. "I remember in that particular case, I considered it to be unusual, in part for the reasons that I described. I remember in that case that defense counsel was arguing for probation, in part because he argued that here we had a very young man who just graduated from high school. He presented all of his diplomas and certificates and the things that he had done and argued, consistent with what I was seeing in the record, that this particular defendant had gotten into this in a way that was, I thought, inconsistent with some of the other cases that I had seen."

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing 

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing  (Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS)

Jackson continued, "Part of what a judge is doing as required by Congress is thinking about this case, thinking about unwarranted sentencing disparities. That's in the statute. Other cases, other determinations that a judge may have made about this. I don't remember in detail this particular case, but I do recall it being unusual."

Hawley, seemingly not satisfied with Jackson’s response, said that he is questioning her discretion and again referenced Jackson’s own words from the sentencing.

"To me to take a guy who's 18 years old, who has what the government says is an extremely large collection of prepubescent pornography, eight-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, we're talking about, I mean, gobs of hours of time here that he has," Hawley said. "And you say to him, what you say well it was just a collection. I mean, he was just viewing it and it was, you know, essentially they were his peers. You say to him that he's not a pedophile. I don't know how you know that. I don't know why that's relevant to the guidelines. But maybe it is. You say he's not a pedophile. You say that you're very sorry for him. And what he suffered. And then you give him three months when, frankly, a liberal prosecutor is asking for two full years."

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Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hawley has publicly focused on Jackson's sentencing record including in a lengthy Twitter thread last week when he pointed out several examples where Jackson issued a child pornography conviction sentence that was less stringent than sentencing guidelines and the requests of prosecutors. 

"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," the Missouri Republican tweeted. "She’s been advocating for it since law school. This goes beyond ‘soft on crime.’ I’m concerned that this a record that endangers our children."

The White House has dismissed Hawley's criticisms as a "smear" to "discredit her work" that is "not borne in fact."