GOP Senators ‘Very Concerned’ With SCOTUS Nominee’s Leniency in Child-Porn Sentencing

By Emily Robertson | March 24, 2022 | 10:00am EDT
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com)— When asked whether they agreed with Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) point that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson had imposed very lenient sentences on people possessing child pornography – prison terms far below the federal guidelines and what the prosecutors had requested -- several GOP senators said yes, and they were “very concerned” about a judge who was so soft on people who had committed such vile crimes.

At the Capitol on Wednesday, CNSNews.com asked some of the senators, “Sen. Hawley yesterday listed seven child-porn cases in which he thought Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had given sentences that were too lenient. Do you agree?”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) said, “I’m not accusing her of being sympathetic to child pornography. I am very concerned that when it comes to sentencings and these cases, she does not use the fact that the perpetrator went online to get the images pulled down. I think she should.”

“I think there’s been an explosion of child pornography due to the internet and the computer systems,” he said. “She refuses to use that as a sentence enhancer, which I think puts her on the low end.”

“Secondly,” Sen. Graham added, “she will not look at the number of images downloaded. I think both of those are mistakes. So that’s my beef with her, when it comes to sentencing these cases she takes off the table the two things that I think could do the best deterrence. I want people to believe that if I go on the internet and download child pornography, I’m going to jail.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N. Dak.) said, “Well, I have not looked into all of it nor have I looked into the context of it all. I will say, though, this line of inquiry is completely appropriate. I mean, she is a judge, she wants to be on the highest court in the land, she needs to explain it, if there is a context where it makes some sense.”

“I will say the one answer I heard that I sort of cringed at was when she tried to differentiate between mail—you know, hard mail coming through the you know, into your mailbox -- versus digital,” the senator added.

“That’s really not, that’s really not the threshold for how bad a crime it is,” said Cramer. “So, I don’t know if she’s got a better answer or if [unintelligible] there’s a context that makes sense. I’m not, by the way, I’m not so sure that we shouldn’t look at some sentencing reforms. But this—Josh was right to bring it up, he was right to challenge it, he was obviously thorough and specific in choosing his examples. It raises more concern about her than there was a week ago.”  

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told CNS News,  “I’m concerned about her sentencing practices for child pornography cases. It seems likes its sort of been at the low end of the range. She had her reasons for doing it, but I think one of the concerns is she keeps talking about staying in her lane and not being a policy maker.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)   (Getty Images)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) (Getty Images)

“It looks to me like she’s not staying consistent because she’s saying I disagree with some of the policy—policies by which these cases were sentenced, but I think it’s a legitimate area of concern,” said Cornyn.  

At the Capitol on Monday, the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sen. Josh Hawley referenced the seven cases each that dealt with the distribution or possession of child pornography, along with the requested sentencing for the defendants and the actual sentencing Judge Jackson imposed.

  1. United States v. Hawkins: The defendant distributed multiple images of child pornography, possessed dozens more, including videos. The federal sentencing guidelines were 97-121 months in prison and the prosecutor recommended 24 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to three months.
  2. United States v Chazin: The defendant possessed 48 files of child pornography. The federal guidelines were 78-97 months in prison and the prosecutor recommended 78-97 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to 28 months.
  3. United States v. Cooper: The defendant distributed dozens of images of child pornography,  possessed over 600 images. The federal guidelines were 151-188 months in prison and the prosecutor recommended 72 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to 60 months (the lowest sentence permitted by law).
  4. United States v. Downs: Defendant distributed 33 graphic images and videos of child sexual assault on an anonymous messaging app. The federal guidelines were 70-87 months in prison and prosecutor recommended 70 months. Jackson sentenced the defendant to 60 months (the lowest sentence permitted by law).
  5. United States v. Stewart: The defendant distributed scores of images of children suffering sexual abuse. The federal guidelines were 97-121 months in prison and prosecutor recommended 97 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to 57 months.
  6. United States v. Sears: The defendant distributed over one hundred videos of child pornography. The federal guidelines were 97-121 months in prison and the prosecutor recommended 97 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to 71 months.  
  7. United States v. Savage: The defendant was convicted of traveling across state lines to engage in sexual intercourse with a child and also possessed six separate thumb drives of child pornography. Federal guidelines were 46-57 months in prison and the prosecutor recommended 49 months. Judge Jackson sentenced the defendant to 37 months.

“Now those are seven cases that represent, as near as we can tell, all of Judge Jackson’s cases dealing with child pornography from her time on the district court, in which she had some discretion to hand down a sentence,” said Sen. Hawley. “There are some other cases in which the law, she didn’t have any discretion of the law bound on the sentence that she had to give.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)  (Getty Images)
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) (Getty Images)

“What concerns me, and I’ve been very candid about this, is that in every case, and each of these seven, Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended and below what prosecutors requested, and so I think there’s a lot to talk about there and I look forward to talking about it,” he added.

“Now, I will note that some have said the federal sentencing guidelines are too harsh on child sex crimes, especially child pornography,” Sen. Hawley continued. “I’ve heard that argument a lot in recent days. The chairman quotes someone earlier today who takes that point of view. I’ll just be honest; I can’t say that I agree with that.”

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