GOP Sen. Josh Hawley focused his claims about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson''s sentencing record in child porn cases on one particular case, known as US v. Hawkins, in which she sentenced the offender to three months.
In the 2013 case, prosecutors sought 24 months – a recommendation well below the 97-121 month guidelines in the case. Jackson and her supporters have defended her approach to these cases by noting that courts have discretion to deviate from the guidelines, In these types of cases in particular – because the many judges view the guidelines as out of date – sentences that vary from the guidelines are quite common, and CNN review showed that Jackson's approach to these kinds of cases did not make her an outlier among judges.
"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 told Hawley.
Throughout the questioning, however, Hawley sought to keep the discussion zeroed in on the specifics of the Hawkins case, rather than how Jackson’s record fits into the bigger picture. He rattled off the amount of materials the offender was found to have possessed and went into detail about the graphic acts some of those materials depicted. He also read her a quote of Jackson's he said he pulled from the sentencing hearing transcript. He noted government court filings describing videos where the victims were as young as eight, 11 and 12 years old.
In his account, she said at the hearing it was not appropriate to increase the penalty on the basis of the images of prepubescent victims, because those “circumstances exist in many cases, if not most, and don’t signal an especially heinous or egregious child pornography offense.
To Jackson, Hawley said he was having “a hard time wrapping my head” that comment, given the facts of the case. Stressing that all cases of this kind are “heinous” and “egregious."
Jackson defended her judgment. From her recollection of the case, she said the defendant had just graduated high school and that some of the materials involved older teenage victims who were close in age to the offender.
“There is discretion at sentencing and when you look at the sentencing statutes, Congress has given the judges not only the discretion to make the decision, but require judges to do so on an individualized basis, taking into account not only the guidelines but also various factors including the age of the defendant, the circumstances of the defendant, the terrible nature of the crime, the harm to the victims,” Jackson said.
She later noted that prosecutors and probation offices are also deviating from the guidelines in their recommendations.
“This is a particular area where the commission has seen an enormous amount of disparity and is in fact asked Congress to come back and address, to help judges who are looking at these cases to be able to rely on the guidelines,” she said, prompting Hawley to respond: “Which Congress has declined to do.”
“Senator, in that case, we have the statute that Congress has enacted concerning penalties and we have judges who are doing their level best to make sure that people are held accountable as they need to be in our society in a fair and just way,” Jackson said.