In an attempt to draw QAnon conspiracy theorists in, Republicans are painting Jackson as going easy on pedophiles, by highlighting cases in which she gave sentences below the federal sentencing guidelines to people convicted of possessing child pornography. To really drive home the connection they wanted to make between Jackson and child sexual abuse, Hawley discussed one particular case in some detail, because “Republican senator describes child pornography” is something his party is willing to embrace if it harms the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court.
Two pieces of context are important. First, Vox reports, “According to a 2021 report by the US Sentencing Commission, “the majority (59.0%) of nonproduction child pornography offenders received a variance below the guideline range.” When judges do depart downward from the guidelines, they typically impose sentences that are more than 50 months lower than the minimum sentence recommended by the guidelines. Indeed, in a majority of the child pornography cases heard by Judge Jackson, the prosecution recommended a below-guidelines sentence.”
Second, Hawley himself voted to confirm at least three federal judges who had given sentences well below the sentencing guidelines in child pornography cases. Because it’s really common, because the sentencing guidelines are imperfect. In fact, during the time Jackson served on the federal sentencing commission, “The commission noted in a 2012 report to Congress that existing sentencing guidelines on crimes involving images of child sexual abuse ‘fail to differentiate among offenders in terms of their culpability’ and result in penalty ranges that ‘are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders,’” The New York Times reports. Somehow that “too lenient for other offenders” didn’t make it into the Republican talking points.
Before Hawley was up, though, Sen. Ted Cruz harangued Jackson about children’s books on the curriculum at a private school where she sits on the board (books that in at least some cases are in the libraries at the school his own kids attend), and even demanded to know if she thinks babies are racist (not an issue likely to come before the Supreme Court).
Tom Cotton did try his best to make headlines through misleading attacks on specific cases Jackson had sentenced, claiming that “You twisted the law and you rewrote it so you could cut the sentence of a drug kingpin. That’s what you did, Judge.” But against Cruz with the racist babies and Hawley with the child pornography, he failed in the battle for attention. He even fell behind Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who lobbed an anti-trans demand that Jackson define the word “woman.” (“I’m not a biologist,” Jackson responded.)
Republicans went for one red-meat attack after another, regardless of the relevance to the job for which Jackson is being considered: Supreme Court justice. Again and again, they showed that they are much less concerned with her judicial philosophy or her record on the kind of major legal issues that the Supreme Court weighs in on, and much more concerned with scoring points with their QAnon base over false connections to pedophiles, their racist base over children’s books, and their anti-trans base with attacks on transgender athletes.
Don’t expect day two of questioning to be any different.