The Venomous Jackson Trial
BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“It is not human nature we should accuse but the despicable conventions that pervert it.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Far-right white Republican senators, tossing aside decency, decorum and respect, ganged up on Black Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in a despicable display of unprovoked arrogance, shamelessly asking her mindless culture war questions to appeal to their largely white constituency for votes. What a travesty.
These senators shamed their Senate Judiciary Committee and themselves during hearings to determine Jackson’s credentials to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. She had been vetted by the panel three times for previous judicial positions, the last time about a year ago when she was nominated for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
Yet they repeatedly badgered Jackson and bore down on her inappropriately unmercifully, bullied her, paying little heed to her position as an appellate judge with a golden reputation and the first Black woman to be nominated to the high court. She deserved far more respect.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the committee chair, should have stopped the hearings and reprimanded senators for improper behavior. Maybe he let them go on to drown themselves in their own muck in full view of a TV audience. It marked a horror show that may have surpassed for its indecency the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings in which the Wisconsin senator branded bright, talented people as communists.
The senators’ questioning ranged from implications that Jackson is soft on crime — a favored far-right topic — that included lenient sentencing for people who possess but do not create child pornography to the totally misleading blockbuster flavor of the year, critical race theory (CRT). Questioning about that hot, GOP-twisted and manufactured issue stank of racism.
The Republican National Committee reportedly tweeted that Jackson is linked to CRT, which is false. The topic is no more than an academic exercise in law school education that focuses on racism being embedded in American society.
But Republicans have spawned it as another meaningless controversy, blowing it up as a cultural battle involving public schools nationwide where the subject isn’t even taught. They charge teaching the theory would make white children feel badly about themselves.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., asked the judge how she understood CRT.
“My understanding is that critical race theory . . . is an academic theory that is about the ways in which race interacts with various institutions,” Jackson replied. “It doesn’t come up in my work as a judge. It’s never something that I’ve studied or relied on. And it wouldn’t be something that I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.”
Cruz wasn’t alone. The other usual Trumpist Senate suspects chimed in: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mike Lee of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Josh Hawley of Missouri, one of the cheerleaders at the Jan. 6 rally.
Hawley accused Jackson, a mother of two, of being “soft on crime,” chiefly on people charged with possessing child pornography. On Fox News, he said, “Are we gonna get a judge here who’s gonna protect children or who’s gonna protect child predators?”
Are we gonna get a real senator or only a mouthpiece for Fox News?
On Twitter, Lee wrote the judge’s “very real record in child pornography cases is dismissive, dangerous and offensive.”
Graham, who had a nasty habit of interrupting Jackson repeatedly, charged that she didn’t think such pornography was a “bad thing.”
Sex-related crimes are a big deal for the far-right activists, who tend to believe the QAnon conspiracy nonsense about Democrats running a pedophile ring in Washington, D.C., that Trump is expected to eliminate. Good luck with that theory.
And, of course, with the midterm elections only a little more than seven months away, Republicans criticize the Democrats for not being tough on crime at a time when criminal activity, including killings, has burgeoned nationwide.
“I’m asking you to take the opportunity to explain to this committee and the American people why in 100 percent of the cases you have people with vile crimes, and you have language saying they are vile crimes, but then you sentence them to very, very low sentences,” Cruz said.
“What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we have spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” the judge replied.
She said she had sentenced people to prison longer than 25 to 30 years.
The obnoxious focus on leniency toward child pornography involves Jackson’s 2013 sentencing of Wesley Hawkins to three months in prison after he pled guilty to a felony offense for possessing 17 videos and 16 images of young boys. He was 18 at the time, had no criminal record and wrote a letter expressing remorse and taking responsibility for his action, The Washington Post reported. He’s now 27.
Jackson was a federal district court judge in Washington at the time. Federal guidelines sought a sentence of eight to 10 years, prosecutors wanted two years and a federal probation officer recommended a year and a half, in part because of his age, the Post reported.
Republican senators seized on Hawkins more than 30 times during three days of hearings, the paper reported, in a bid to show Jackson had erred grievously. But U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics say such a light sentence for possessing child pornography is normal in seven of 10 cases, the Post said.
Nevertheless, the senators kept picking at it, like a bird pecking on the ground searching for food. The conservative publication National Review slammed the questioning as “demagoguery.”
“You can get more than that almost for a speeding ticket,” Cruz said of Jackson’s three-month sentence. Hawley termed it “a slap on the wrist.” Cruz went to Harvard law, Hawley to Yale law.
Hawkins told the Post about Jackson’s sentence: “I feel that she chose to take into consideration the fact that I was just getting started [in life] and she knew this was going to hold me back for years to come regardless, so she didn’t want to add to that.”
Perhaps never have so few tried to woo so many with lies, misleading statements and fabricated conspiracies that are beyond the comprehension of the civilized. Some of them want to follow Trump and run for president, if he lets them.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.