Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) joined other Republicans on Wednesday expressing concern about Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s light sentences for individuals convicted of child pornography charges.

One case of particular concern was the case of 18-year-old Wesley Hawkins, who pleaded guilty after law enforcement found thousands of images of sex acts of pre-prepubescent young boys on his computer.


Jackson sentenced Hawkins to three months in federal prison and 73 months of supervised release.

“Now when you approach these child pornography cases, what you’re describing in many circumstances is an overall concern that you’ve got with the sentencing guidelines, and particularly that portion of the sentencing guidelines that deals with child pornography cases,” Lee said. “This showed up in the transcripts of some of your sentencing hearings, including the transcript of your sentencing hearing in the Hawkins case.”

Lee referred to page 38, lines 17 to 24, of a transcript from the sentencing trial in which Jackson’s decision fell short of the lower recommended sentence of 97 months and a higher-end sentence of 120 or more months.

Lee read what Jackson said to Hawkins.

“Your case in particular, I don’t feel that it is appropriate, necessarily, to increase the penalty on the basis of your use of the computer, or the number of images or prepubescent victims, as the guidelines require, because these circumstances exist in many cases, if not most, and don’t signal an especially heinous or egregious child pornography offense,” Jackson said at the hearing.

Lee said that while this case was specific to one individual, he wanted to know if this is the standard Jackson seemed to apply more broadly.

“You start out in that paragraph sounding like you’re making a determination as to him. But then the observations you make in that paragraph seem to apply broadly. Is that right?” Lee asked.

 

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 23, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jackson said she did not have the transcript and did not remember the details of Hawkins’ crime but said, while it was “difficult,” she believes his case was “an outlier.”

“There were prepubescent victims that were at stake,” Lee said.

Jackson said she followed Congress’s guidelines for child porn sentencing, which she said leaves judges with some discretion.

Lee pushed back, citing the young victims.

“So I don’t understand how that could be an instance where that shouldn’t matter,” Lee said. “The fact that he did it with the computer, partly atones for what he was doing hardly offsets the fact that he was seeking and obtained prepubescent child pornography images. Nor does the fact that the images become easier over time to transmit and receive and store because of computers — I actually think it comes in precisely the opposite direction that you described. It makes it more severe, not less. I see this as an aggravating factor and that is a great concern to me.”

Jackson defended her sentencing in the Hawkins case and others.

“But what I can assure you is that I took every one of these cases seriously, in my duty and responsibility as the judge, and I made my determinations in light of the seriousness of the offense, the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence imposed to promote various purposes of punishment and all of the other factors that Congress prescribed,” Jackson said.

Lee pressed on.

“You specifically excluded from consideration the fact that he had requested and obtained prepubescent child pornography images,” Lee said.

“I didn’t exclude it,” Jackson said. “What I did was I looked at the guidelines, which is what the Supreme Court requires, and I made … determinations as the Supreme Court says judges are to do.”

“Look at page 38 of your transcript,” Lee said. “It looks to me like you excluded and your actions, sentencing him to three months for one of the most heinous offenses imaginable.”

“Keep in mind because these are transmitted electronically, they’re there for years,” Lee said. “They re-victimize all of these victims for the rest of their lives.”

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