Mar 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Leahy: Graham's questioning of Jackson was "outrageous"

Photos: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters on Wednesday that Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) line of questioning for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was "outrageous," adding, "I've never seen anything like it."

Driving the news: During the third day of Jackson's Senate confirmation hearings, Graham asked the judge about sentences she's given to people convicted of child sexual abuse images and her opinion of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's hearings, but interrupted when she attempted to answer any of his questions.

  • Graham's interruptions prompted Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to interject and demand that the South Carolina senator let Jackson speak.
  • Graham also went over the 20 allotted minutes he had for his line of questioning.

What he's saying: "You had a Republican member who went way the over time allotted, ignored the rules of the committee, badgered the nominee, would not ever let her answer the questions. I've never seen anything like it. I've been here 48 years," Leahy, the Senate's longest sitting member, said about the exchange.

Details: Graham said that Jackson declined to consider sentencing "enhancements" in some child abuse images-related cases that could have increased jail time: "All I can say is that your view of how to deter child pornography is not my view. I think you're doing it wrong."

  • Jackson, after Durbin intervened, said that she follows the sentencing process laid out by Congress: "I ensured that they were facing lengthy periods of supervision and restrictions on their computer use so they could not do this sort of thing again. That's what Congress has required of judges, and that's what I did in every case."
  • When Graham asked her to give her personal opinion on the Kavanaugh hearings, Jackson said she did not feel comfortable answering questions revolving around a Supreme Court justice.

Following Graham's questioning, Durbin called the senator's conduct "reprehensible," adding that Congress shares part of the blame on sentencing because it has not updated the guidelines judges must follow when looking at cases around child pornography.

  • Jackson "is currently not an outlier in sentencing. 70% of federal judges face the same dilemma and wonder why Congress has failed to act and when it will act ... We have to update these guidelines," Durbin said.

Republican senators have asked Jackson about why she has sentenced offenders to less prison time than federal sentencing guidelines recommend, and Jackson has pointed out that federal law requires justice to set a sentence that is "sufficient, but not greater than necessary."

Between the lines: The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that approximately 59% "of non-production child pornography offenders received a variance below the guideline range."

  • The guidelines that senators and Jackson have referred to are an advisory manual that recommend a sentencing range for various offenses to federal judges. In the case of those concerning child pornography, they were set before that crime became more common due to the internet.
  • As a result, Jackson has suggested the guidelines need to change in order for sentencing practices to change.
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