Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, came under intense questioning Tuesday and Wednesday at her confirmation hearings from some Republicans who accused her of being too lenient as a trial judge imposing sentences in child pornography cases, according to the USA Today.
The Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court have exposed a pattern:
Whether as a lawyer, sentencing commissioner, or judge, she has disregarded the warnings or recommendations of prosecutors and investigators while advocating or easing the punishment not just for drug dealers but also for child porn offenders and even accused terrorists.
She said: “If we keep them in jail for the extra 36 months, or whatever, they’re going to recidivate at the same rate as if we released them early.”
Jackson argues courts should have empathy for all people, no matter how egregious their behavior, and look to rehabilitate them and not just “lock them up and throw away the key.”
In a specific case, the Supreme Court continued to cast Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as lenient in her sentencing of child pornography, most of the Democratic pushback focused on data showing it is a standard judicial practice to sentence child pornography defendants who do not actually produce images to sentences shorter than the government recommendations.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley focused on a 2013 case — the United States v. Hawkins. It involved an 18-year-old boy who uploaded child pornography to YouTube and possessed child pornography that involved children as young as 8 years old. His collection included hours of images of children performing sex acts.
While prosecutors recommended Hawkins receive two years in prison, Jackson sentenced him to three months, with other probationary measures.
“I am questioning your discretion and your judgment… that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Hawley said. “I’m questioning how you used your discretion in these cases.
Jackson said she takes a number of factors into consideration when considering a sentence, including the federal guidelines, requests from prosecution and the defense, the background of the person who is convicted, probation recommendations, the circumstances of the offense, and the stories of victims. She said her sentencing practices are in line with other judges across the country.
“You are questioning whether or not I take them seriously, or whether I have some reason to handle them in a different way than my peers or in a different way than other cases and I assure you that I do not. If you were to look at the greater body of, not only my more than 100 sentences, but also the sentences of other judges in my district and nationwide, you would see a very similar exercise of attempting to do what it is that judges do.”
Jackson said each time she is sentencing someone convicted of possessing or distributing child pornography, she makes it a point to highlight the victims. She mentioned adults who can’t have normal relationships and those who go into prostitution or fall into drug use. She mentioned someone who wrote to her saying she can no longer leave her house because she thinks everyone she meets will have seen her pictures on the internet.
“I tell that story to every child porn defendant as a part of my sentencings so that they understand what they have done,” Jackson said. “I say to them that there is only a market for this kind of material because there are lookers, that you are contributing to child sex abuse. Then I impose a significant sentence and all of the additional restraints that are available in the law.”
In a report by Real Clear Investigations:
More Than 31,000 Drug-Traffickers Granted Early Release
While guiding the sentencing commission, Jackson didn’t just resist federal prosecutors’ warnings that granting crack dealers early release would merely put them back in action faster. She also ignored their advice to exclude from eligibility those with firearms in their records. In the end, she sided with NAACP official Hilary O. Shelton, who called crack sentences “racially discriminatory” and demanded the commission “correct this injustice.”
“People of color are being put in prison at much higher rates than their Caucasian counterparts,” Shelton asserted, testifying before the commission alongside Rose.
But Jackson wasn’t satisified with releasing only inmates locked up for dealing crack. In 2014, she helped push a proposal to slash sentencing guidelines for the full array of drug offenses. Several months later, the commission voted to let such inmates apply for the sweeping reductions retroactively — a move that sped the release of tens of thousands more prisoners. Since drug felons make up roughly half the federal prison population, it was arguably the most consequential decision the panel has made in its 38-year history.
All told, more than 31,000 drug-traffickers were granted early release, and most are now back on the streets. Studies show many of them are career criminals whose drug crimes involved guns — like Jackson’s own uncle, Thomas Brown Jr., whose life prison sentence she helped get commuted around the same time.
Jackson assured the public that judges wouldn’t just dump prisoners into communities without first assessing their risk on a case-by-case basis. “Each drug offender is going to have to be evaluated individually in order to determine whether or not, as a result of dangerousness or otherwise, his or her sentence should be reduced,” she said on NPR in July 2014.
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