March 24, 2022

In Response to Durbin's Questions, ABA Debunks Republican Myths About Judge Jackson's Sentencing

In fourth day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court, ABA reiterates that Judge Jackson has a reputation for unbiased, “by the book” sentencing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses from the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s sentencing record during the fourth day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on her nomination to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

The ABA members serving as witnesses were Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary Chair Judge Ann Claire Williams (ret.), a former judge on the Northern District of Illinois and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as Standing Committee members Mr. Joseph Drayton and Ms. D. Jean Veta.

Following repeated, baseless accusations from Senate Republicans that Judge Jackson imposed sentences on child pornography offenders that are outside of the judicial mainstream, Durbin questioned the ABA Standing Committee representatives about the more than 250 interviews the Standing Committee conducted with judges, prosecutors, defenders, and other attorneys about Judge Jackson’s record and if there was any indication that she was ruling outside of the mainstream in her sentencing decisions. 

“Over the last several days, we have had a handful of Senators argue that Judge Jackson is out of the mainstream when it comes to sentencing, particularly sentencing cases of child pornography…would such an assertion have arisen during the course of your questioning? Whether people who have been able to observe whether they felt at a professional level there was any truth to that charge?” Durbin asked.

“It never came up in any of the interviews we conducted,” Judge Williams responded.

Mr. Drayton continued, “We did speak to various prosecutors and defense counsels for Judge Jackson, the majority of them in child porn cases and child sexual offense cases. None of them felt that she demonstrated bias in any way…One prosecutor said, ‘I did not observe any bias, and the Judge was fair to all sides in connection with sentencing in all aspects.’…We asked pointed questions as it related to bias – whether it be to defendants, whether it be to the government, and we found no bias.”

Durbin went on to ask the ABA witnesses about Senate Republicans’ claim that Judge Jackson is “soft on crime.”

“The assertion was made over and over and over again that Judge Jackson was ‘soft on crime’ when it came to prosecution versus defense, that her background as a public defender, the fact that she would consider representing a detainee being detained at Guantanamo Bay raised a question on whether or not she was ‘soft on crime.’ I assume that means release people who would be a danger to the community. Did you find any evidence from all the people that you interviewed of that assertion?” Durbin asked.

“We heard consistently, from not only defense counsel but prosecutors, how unbiased Judge Jackson is. We heard phrases like ‘doing things by the books.’ For example, one prosecutor described the sentencing hearing involving a very high profile, sensitive national security matter. What she said was, it was classic Judge Jackson. She said, ‘I had my sentencing manual, Judge Jackson had her sentencing manual. The defense counsel had his sentencing manual.’…What really impressed this prosecutor was that after oral argument, Judge Jackson took a recess, went back to chambers, and when she resumed the bench, came out with a sentence that was more in favor of the government. What more impressed the prosecutor was that the Judge's ruling included arguments that had been made both by the defense and the prosecutors during oral arguments. It is not as if she came into the hearing with her mind made up. She listened to what counsel on both sides said and came up with a sentence that the prosecution was quite happy with,” Ms. Veta responded in affirming Judge Jackson’s record of careful, fair sentencing.

These false claims about lax sentencing in child pornography cases, initially brought by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), have been repeatedly debunked by various news outlets. In fact, Judge Jackson’s sentences are in the judicial mainstream. As the Sentencing Commission concluded in its 2012 and 2021 reports, judges across the country consistently impose below-guidelines sentences in non-production cases due to a view that technological changes have rendered the guidelines outdated. For example, between 2015 and 2020, judges in the district of D.C., where Jackson served, imposed below-guidelines sentences in these cases 80 percent of the time; judges in Missouri district courts did so 77 percent of the time; and nationally, in 2019, only 30 percent of non-production child pornography offenders received a sentence within the guideline range.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

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