Opinion: The Irresponsible GOP Interrogation of Future Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
By Sophia Alexandrou
Back in February 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, former Vice Chair of the United States Sentencing Committee, for the Supreme Court to replace Justice Breyer who retired in January. This would effectively make her the first Black woman to achieve this title. While Jackson is expected to be confirmed, this did not come without significant pushback from the GOP.
A major topic of discussion during this hearing was Judge Jackson’s sentencing decisions in cases involving child pornography. Possession and distribution of child pornography is one of the most abhorrent crimes one can commit which is why it was so disgraceful that the GOP would weaponize these crimes as a political ploy. These claims that Jackson is “soft on child porn offenders” is lacking crucial context. While most of Jackson’s decisions with these cases were on the lower end of federal guidelines (and some even below them), so were most decisions by most judges in similar cases.
A report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission stated, “Less than one-third (30.0%) of non-production child pornography offenders received a sentence within the guideline range in fiscal year 2019.” A significant reason for this is prosecutors frequently request sentences that are below federal guidelines. In these decisions, Jackson did exactly what most judges would have done. Sentencing crimes of this magnitude are much more complicated than following a set of guidelines. After the 2005 case of US v. Booker, judges were not required to follow these guidelines exactly. Instead, they are asked to follow a statute where they consider aspects of the case like “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant” and “the need for the sentence imposed…to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense.” Jackson did exactly that and should not be penalized for it. In fact, Senator Hawley, a vocal critic of Jackson’s sentencings, confirmed at least three federal judges who have a similar history with the sentencing of child pornography offenders as Jackson.
During the hearing, Senator Cruz brought attention to several books being taught at Georgetown Day School, on whose board Jackson serves. These books, such as Antiracist Baby by Ibram Kendi and Stamped (For Kids) by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds, were designed to teach children about antiracism. At one point, he brought up several enlarged pages of Antiracist Baby, a book that explicitly says that children are taught racism and antiracism, and asked Judge Jackson “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?” This is a ridiculous question because not only did Senator Cruz manage to misunderstand a children’s book, but this question also has nothing to do with Jackson’s ability to serve justly on the Supreme Court. He then goes on to inquire upon the teachings of critical race theory in public schools by asking Jackson about whether critical race theory is being taught at Georgetown Day School, a private school whose curriculum is not under the control of the board. Throughout this entire part of the hearing, Cruz consistently implied that the concept of teaching children to be antiracist in schools is simply unfathomable and must be stopped.
Overall, this hearing was a disaster. Despite this, Jackson handled each one of the ridiculous questions asked by the GOP with poise and grace. She is arguably more qualified than any of the sitting justices, and yet, also more scrutinized than any of the sitting judges. The last two Supreme Court confirmations of Justice Kavanaugh, an alleged rapist, and Justice Barrett, a grossly underqualified candidate, went much smoother than this one. These confirmations are supposed to be a celebration and the GOP turned it into an interrogation. They made their party look bad and they made this country look bad. Should she be confirmed, Ketanji Brown Jackson will assume this power the same way she handled this hearing: patient, focused, and level-headed.