Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of enabling child predators throughout her legal career, a preview of the lines of attack Jackson is likely to face during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Hawley, a former Missouri attorney general who once defended a 241-year prison sentence for a 16-year-old, said in a Wednesday tweetstorm that there’s “an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”
Jackson, who served for eight years on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before being confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals last year, was nominated by President Joe Biden last month to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she’d previously clerked. If confirmed, she would be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
Over the course of several tweets on Wednesday, Hawley referenced a Harvard Law Review article Jackson wrote as a law student arguing that, regarding sex offender registries, “courts must be especially attentive to legislative enactments that ‘use public health and safety rhetoric to justify procedures that are, in essence, punishment and detention.’”
The Missouri senator attacked Jackson’s work on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she served as vice chair from 2010 to 2014, highlighting several passages of a transcript from a February 2012 Sentencing Commission hearing in which Jackson and other members of the commission questioned experts on child pornography offenses and recidivism and the psychology of pedophiles.
For example, in one passage Hawley included in a screenshot, Jackson said she “mistakingly assumed that child pornography offenders are pedophiles.” But in the passage immediately following the screenshot, a psychiatrist providing testimony tells Jackson, “I think you ought to keep your previous definition, quite frankly,” to which Jackson responds, “Oh, OK.”
Hawley also raised several cases concerning child pornography in which Jackson, as a U.S. district court judge, handed down a lower sentence than what was recommended by sentencing guidelines at the time.
The White House responded to Hawley’s thread Thursday, telling the Washington Post that the senator’s claim was “toxic and weakly-presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context.” Hawley shot back that the White House’s response was “juvenile histrionics.”
Taken as a whole, Jackson’s views based solely on her career as a judge have been hard to pin down, as USA Today earlier this week found. “The idea that you could look to [district court rulings] to determine if someone is liberal or conservative — that’s just not been my experience,” Vanderbilt Law School professor Tracey George told the New York Times earlier this month.
Prominent conservatives, including those in the Senate, have questioned Jackson’s nomination, going after her record as a defense attorney and even her LSAT scores. And even prior to her selection, several Republicans questioned Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court—including Sen. Roger Wicker, who said the eventual nominee would be a “beneficiary” of an affirmative action “quota.”
Hawley told the Hill earlier this week that Jackson’s work on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay—a facility that was condemned earlier this year by United Nations-appointed experts for “unrelenting human rights violations”—was “a little concerning,” while the Republican National Committee put out a list of talking points on Jackson the day of her nomination describing her as a “radical, left-wing activist” and attacking her work on behalf of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
“Jackson’s advocacy for these terrorists was ‘zealous,’ going beyond just giving them a competent defense,” the RNC document said.
Of the 38 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay, fewer than half have been charged or convicted of a crime, according to the New York Times; in December 2020, one man was released from the detention center after spending more than 18 years there without being formally charged with a crime.
Jackson’s four-day Senate confirmation hearing begins Monday.
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