As Kate Riga noted repeatedly during her coverage of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) made a point of injecting some QAnon-adjacent claims about Jackson into the public record Monday.
We knew this was coming. Hawley posted a Twitter thread last week that forecast what would become Republicans’ strategy for going after Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Less pugnacious types like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have chosen to voice vaguer and more predictable criticisms, opining that her professional background as a public defender means she will bring a “special empathy for convicted criminals” to SCOTUS, in McConnell’s words — something the minority leader finds concerning.
But Hawley has taken his attacks several gross and misleading steps further, accusing Jackson of being too lenient in her past rulings as a judge on cases involving defendants accused of crimes against children, specifically when it comes to dealing with sex offenders and those found guilty of endangering children. Other Republicans have since seized on Hawley’s Twitter thread detailing his accusations (which have a clear appeal for the pedophilia-fixated adherents of QAnon conspiracy theories), as Kate Riga documented here. Since Hawley posted his Twitter thread, others have latched on to it, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who accused the White House of deflecting on unsubstantiated questions about Jackson’s record.
“The White House’s whataboutist response to Judge Jackson’s very real record in child pornography cases is dismissive, dangerous, and offensive,” he tweeted. “We need real answers.”
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Hawley praised Jackson in his initial opening remarks during today’s hearing, before taking a sharp right turn to rehash his accusations that the SCOTUS nominee has been soft on sex offenders. It was a bizarre juxtaposition of tone that laid bare the transparently non-serious nature of the GOPer’s line of attack.
The Republican conference is full of lawyers and legal scholars who should — and do — know better. Even some in conservative media have attempted to fact-check Hawley’s accusations. Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy penned a piece for The National Review Sunday, titled “Senator Hawley’s Disingenuous Attack against Judge Jackson’s Record on Child Pornography.”
McCarthy explained that he didn’t support Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court due to her “judicial philosophy” before breaking down the dishonesty of Hawley’s crusade, specifically pointing to the legal disparity in sentencing in cases that involve various types of child sex crimes, including the difference between child porn-related penalties and crimes associated with “abominable, inhumane sexual acts” against children.
“The allegation appears meritless to the point of demagoguery,” he wrote of Hawley’s ongoing screed.
As a lawyer himself (and a former state attorney general), Hawley would already be familiar with everything McCarthy wrote. He knows his attacks don’t hold water. Most Republicans have decided to largely sit this one out, making disapproving noises, like McConnell, without taking things to an extreme. Why make a big stink? Conservatives have a clear majority on the Supreme Court, and Jackson will not change that fact. Democrats have the votes to confirm her, regardless of the extent to which Republicans do or don’t smear her.
But Hawley and a handful of other spotlight-seeking senators, including Lee and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), will not let an opportunity like this pass. Theirs is a disturbing and dark line to lob at a respected and highly qualified judge, and one that illuminates the far-right’s cynicism.
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