The Queen and the Pawns—Ketanji Brown Jackson

Posted in: Juvenile Law

In the game of chess Ketanji Brown Jackson is the Queen, the most powerful piece on the board, able to move in any direction and any number of squares. She has more diverse experience and movement than any sitting Justice: Ivy League law school, Supreme Court clerk, public defender, sentencing commission, district court judge, and court of appeals judge.

Don’t underestimate her.

Last week Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley engaged in a game of little “white” lies, coupled with their unscrupulous abandonment of context. As they spewed misleading information about Judge Jackson’s conventional sentencing history in child pornography cases, they did so while hurting the fight to protect children.

Their blatant smear campaign was no match for her.

Judge Jackson’s measured responses to the “soft on child porn” accusations could not have been more different than the unglued and angry then-Judge Brett Kavanagh in his 2018 confirmation hearings, which some GOP senators are still mad about. Senators Cruz and Hawley’s irrelevant and disrespectful questioning on critical race theory (CRT), child pornography, and anything else they could dig up and manipulate was pathetic. Try as they might, Judge Jackson likely has had years of experience in the “angry black woman” rhetoric class, and she emerged—after long pauses—poised, graceful, and ever so professional. Unlike the screaming, sweating, and spluttering “I like beer” temper tantrum of Judge Kavanagh in the 2018 confirmation hearing. Hmm, this is what anger looks like. Dare you question a white man accused of any wrongdoing, including sexual assault.

In their opening gambit, the Republican senators chose to sacrifice the true problem of child sexual abuse and child pornography and sharpen it for their own devices. As if this sexist and racist line of questioning wasn’t bad enough, they both sought to flip the truth and weaponize the problem of child sexual abuse in the most egregious manner—one which only hurts the most vulnerable of Americans—children.

With charts and children’s books, they remained rancid, economical with the truth, and penniless in the pocket of decency. In their clear political point grabbing as they sought the attention of the ultra-conservative right, we are reminded of their true intentions – political gain, which has nothing to do with the enormous problem of child abuse and child pornography. Yet Judge Jackson didn’t indulge them and refused to offer them the perfect self-serving news clip and social media post to light their darkened path to their true objective—the White House. Instead, their disingenuous attack was nothing but a dog whistle to the QAnon conspiracy followers, painting Judge Jackson as sympathetic to criminals that abuse and exploit children.

Josh Hawley continued his attack on Judge Jackson with his misleading “soft on child porn” claims on his Twitter posts. His reference to the law in Missouri that “protects children” is laughable. Missouri has one of the worst statutes of limitations for civil child sexual abuse claims. This poor standing is especially alarming when we know that civil laws take real child protection beyond the short and narrow reach of the criminal system. Ted Cruz’s home of Texas is no better. Neither Missouri nor Texas has passed revival legislation, which allows victims silenced by their abusers an opportunity at justice. Without reviving the statutes of limitations, victims of child sexual abuse are left powerless, with few, if any, opportunities to identify and expose their abusers, thereby making the world safer for children. Presently 17 jurisdictions have passed revival legislation because lawmakers understand the science of trauma and delayed disclosure for victims. The failure of Senator Cruz’s and Senator Hawley’s states to pass revival legislation directly harms children. This is where real accountability is needed, especially for those institutions that look the other way. Civil laws force institutions to institute better child protection practices, policies, and procedures.

Moreover, Hawley’s disingenuous attack is an attempt to rally QAnon followers who have voting power, something children do not have. What action has he taken on the issue of child sex abuse and pornography? As the former Missouri Attorney General and as a member of Congress, he certainly has the power to make changes for children. Perhaps, he should raise his supercilious and unruly fist and demand change for children and victims?

As Professor Douglas A. Berman points out on Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Judge Jackson’s sentencing record for non-production child pornography is rather “mainstream” and consistent with district court judges appointed from both sides of the political spectrum.

If Senators Hawley and Cruz are genuinely concerned about children and the sex crimes against them, they should look no further than their own fringe member GOP colleagues. Like Jim Jordan ignoring the sexual abuse of young wrestling athletes at Ohio State University. Or Matt Gaetz and the investigation into his sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and potential federal sex trafficking violations. And while they are at it, perhaps they should use their congressional powers to make common-sense changes to sentencing laws so judges like Judge Brown don’t find their hands tied. Maybe they should focus on introducing legislation that offers real protection for children and young athletes—zero-tolerance statute of limitations reform, Chapter 11 bankruptcy reform, and Title IX reform.

The attack on this accomplished, intelligent, and highly qualified judge was a disgrace. Yet perhaps worse, was their contemptible use of the epidemic of child sex abuse and child pornography for their own political gain.

The children who fall victim to child sexual abuse and child pornography were used in this Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. They were political pawns.

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