Democrats lashed out at Republicans Wednesday over their probing questions of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, saying the GOP was trying to tarnish the Supreme Court nominee and Black Harvard-trained woman with “conspiracy theories and culture war theories.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans’ claims that Judge Jackson issued weak sentences, particularly for child pornography offenders, was belied by her support from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Your nomination turned out to be a testing ground for conspiracy theories and culture war theories,” Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said, kicking off the third day of confirmation hearings for the judge. “I’m sorry that we have to go through this. These are not theories that are in the mainstream of America.”
His vehement defense suggested Democrats were rattled by the rash of headlines concerning Judge Jackson’s handling of a series of child pornography cases she heard as a U.S. district judge.
During Tuesday’s questioning, Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, pointed to seven child pornography cases where Judge Jackson had discretion in sentencing, and he said in each case she delivered a sentence below the guidelines and below what prosecutors sought.
Mr. Hawley delved into one case where guidelines called for about 10 years in prison, prosecutors wanted two years, and Judge Jackson delivered a three-month sentence, while apologizing to the convict for having his life upended. In that case, the 18-year-old defendant possessed images of children as young as 8 years old.
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Democrats scrambled, with the White House quickly providing them with a previously secret document that showed the probation office had recommended relatively low sentences in the child pornography cases.
Republicans howled, saying they’d been seeking that sort of information themselves, and they questioned the decision to provide it selectively only to Democrats on the committee.
“No one on our side of the aisle had access to this information,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
The information showed that in the case where Judge Jackson issued a three-month sentence, the probation office had recommended an 18-month term, six times longer than she issued.
Judge Jackson, during questions Tuesday, said the guidelines set by Congress aren’t binding, thanks to an earlier Supreme Court decision. And she said she was following the rules set by Congress in evaluating the totality of each case.
Mr. Durbin, for his part, said it’s really Congress that has failed by not revisiting the issue of child pornography sentences.
“We should have stepped in at that point, but it’s a tough, hard, controversial subject and we’ve stayed away from it,” Mr. Durbin said.
He also said 80% of judges follow the same sentencing approach as Judge Jackson on child pornography cases.
Mr. Durbin cast the questions over sentencing as part of a broader attempt to label Judge Jackson as “soft on crime.”
“You made a mess of their stereotype,” he told the judge.