Supreme Court Nominations

McConnell says SCOTUS nominee is backed by 'soft-on-crime brigade'; Republicans plan to question her sentencing

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Ketanji Brown Jackson

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is scheduled to face four days of questioning during her nomination hearing next week. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to address “a mishmash” of topics as they question U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her nomination hearing next week, according to a Washington Post story.

If there is a common line of attack, it might be that Jackson is weak on crime, the newspaper reports. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell broached the issue in a March 15 floor speech, dubbing some groups that support Jackson as the “soft-on-crime brigade,” according to the Post and the New York Times via How Appealing.

GOP senators may focus on three criminal justice issues:

Jackson’s sentences in child pornography cases. Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said this week that Jackson had given below-guidelines sentences to child pornography defendants in about 10 cases, the Hill reports. Hawley made his argument in a series of tweets in which he cited seven sentences he said Jackson had given.

In one case, United States v. Hawkins, Jackson sentenced an offender who possessed several child pornography images to only three months in prison, Hawley said.

Hawley also said Jackson had backed the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for child pornography while on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Kansas City Star reports. The ABA has registered its opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing in criminal cases since 2017.

Jackson also questioned whether people accused of sex crimes should be required to register as sex offenders in a Harvard Law Review article she wrote as a law student, Hawley said.

A White House spokesperson countered that in most of the child sex-crimes cases, Jackson imposed a sentence consistent with or higher than the sentence recommended by the government or U.S. Probation. The Kansas City Star reports that 59% of sentences imposed by all judges for “non-production child pornography offenders” are below the federal guidelines.

CNN reviewed the seven specific cases cited by Hawley. “Jackson has mostly followed the common judicial sentencing practices in these kinds of cases,” the network found. And Hawley “took some of her comments out of context by suggesting they were opinions, rather than follow-up questions to subject-matter experts.”

Jackson’s clients as a public defender and private lawyer. Hawley told the Washington Post that he intends to question Jackson about her representation of Guantanamo detainees.

“I’d like to get some better understanding of the arguments that she made—both as a public defender and in private practice—in terms of sanctioning the government, arguments she made about the prisoners themselves, the terrorists themselves and then her position on having those people tried in civilian court,” Hawley said.

Some Republicans object to that kind of questioning. “I’m not going to criticize her for any client she’s represented,” Republican U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana told the Washington Post. “We’ve all represented clients that we didn’t agree with and in some cases, didn’t even like.”

Jackson’s work on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which adopted guidelines cutting sentences for many drug offenders when she was commission vice chair, USA Today reports. The so-called “drugs minus two” amendment, passed in 2014, lowered by two the base offense levels.

Republicans have sought more documents from Jackson’s time on the commission, but Democrats have resisted.

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who is helping guide Jackson through the confirmation process, defended Jackson’s record on crime in an interview with the Washington Post. He noted she has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I think they’d be a little surprised to be classified as a ‘soft-on-crime brigade,’ ” Jones said.

Updated to add information from CNN on March 19.

See also: “Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gets ‘well qualified’ rating for SCOTUS by unanimous ABA committee”

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