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Ketanji Brown Jackson
Image via Wikimedia

Of all the Senate Republicans who regularly engage in gutter politics, none is more likely to scrape bottom than Josh Hawley. The junior senator from Missouri was best known, at least until now, for his pseudo-macho fist-pumping display outside the besieged Capitol on January 6, 2021 — and his seditious attempt to deny Electoral College certification to President Joe Biden on that same day.

But Hawley has found a new way to drag our politics into the partisan sewer with a false, grotesque, and inflammatory attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, just days before her Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin. Seizing upon a handful of cases and a comment she made in law school, he has smeared her as "soft on child pornographers."

At the outset of his Twitter thread, Hawley lied: "Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker. She's been advocating for it since law school. This goes beyond 'soft on crime.' I'm concerned that this (is) a record that endangers our children."

With that foul smear, Hawley joins an undeniably psychotic element of his party — the growing cohort affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy cult, which proclaims constantly that prominent Democrats and Hollywood stars are sexually exploiting and even murdering children. There is no evidence for these sick accusations, but that hasn't stopped the fascist-leaning wing of the GOP — including no less a figure than Trump's disgraced national security adviser Mike Flynn — from endorsing them.

Before examining the real friends of kiddie porn in American politics, it is vital to unpack Hawley's fabricated assault on Jackson, a highly qualified and upright Black female jurist whose nomination has turned her into a target for the usual collection of racists and misogynists on the Right. What he accuses her of doing is what literally hundreds of judges of both parties have done regularly in sentencing child sex abuse and child pornography offenders. In law school and since, she has made the same observation as many of her fellow judges and even some prosecutors: Federal sentencing guidelines on those crimes require adjustment in the interest of justice.

According to Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman, an expert on federal sentencing policy, the guidelines on child porn are broadly "considered 'too severe' and poorly designed to 'measure offender culpability' in the digital age." Which is why, Berman writes, "federal judges nationwide rarely follow them." In fact, Berman reports that judges deliver sentences below the guidelines in two out of three child porn cases, with "typical sentences of 54 months below the calculated guideline minimum."

Among nine examples cited to support Hawley's smear, five were cases in which the prosecution advocated a sentence lower than the federal guidelines — and reiterated Jackson's point that the current guidelines cannot reflect mitigating factors or congressional intent. (That is why she suggested in law school that they should be revised.) In eight of the nine cases, Judge Jackson's sentence was less than two years lower than what prosecutors recommended.

In short, Hawley's smear shows either that he's too stupid to understand how federal sentencing works or he's deliberately distorting the facts to foster an ugly untruth. Anyone surprised by his behavior hasn't been paying attention.

By mimicking QAnon, Hawley invites an unflattering question: Which political party is actually preferred by child sex offenders? The conspiracist cult has always looked suspiciously like a perfect cover for such predators. The cult began on an internet channel that has long hosted child pornographers — and its apparent founder, Arizona GOP Congressional candidate Jim Watkins, profited from Web domains that were apparently used to promote child porn.

Beyond QAnon itself is a seemingly endless rogues gallery of child porn and sex abuse criminals associated with the Republican Party. Finding them on Google is a simple and revealing exercise. Last year, federal investigators busted an online kiddie porn ring that included Ruben Verastigui, a digital strategist for the Trump campaign, and Adam Hageman, a Trump Commerce Department official, while separate probes busted Republican consultant Anton Lazzaro, as well as Trump's Oklahoma campaign chair Ralph Shortey and Trump Kentucky delegate Timothy Nolan.

Those are only the most recent entries on the docket, which infamously includes right-wing "Christian" TV personality Josh Duggar — the Arkansas pal of the Huckabees who admitted to molesting young girls, including two of his sisters, and is facing child porn charges. (Not long before Duggar's indictment, Huckabee praised him for leading "a responsible and circumspect life.") And let's not forget Trump associate and influence peddler George Nader, who will spend a long time behind bars for trafficking a child into the United States for sex and distributing child porn.

As noted, it's a long and grimy list. And Republicans who try to suggest that their opponents are "soft" on pedophilia and child porn — currently a favorite theme in right-wing media —-should take a hard look at their own gamy milieu before repeating those disgusting slurs.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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