5.9k Share this
The attorney general of Alabama refused to acknowledge Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory as ‘lawful’ in a stunning moment during the final day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Thursday.
The fourth and final day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proceedings ended after a four-hour session that saw lawmakers grill outside witnesses about Jackson’s fitness for the high court.
Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall, among the minority party’s invitees, echoed Republicans’ concerns that Jackson has been too lenient in her sentencing of child pornography cases.
Marshall conceded that Jackson has been praised for defending vulnerable groups, but ‘we should be interested in exploring whether her zeal is equally fervent for another class of our most vulnerable — victims of violent crime.’
Amid Democrats’ bid to discredit him as a fringe witness, Marshall was grilled by Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about his role leading up to the January 6 Capitol riot last year.
Alabama’s attorney general had signed onto a suit to overturn Biden’s electoral victory. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
In the lead-up to the insurrection, the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Marshall chaired, blasted out a robocall via its policy arm Rule of Law Defense Fund. It encouraged people to gather at the US Capitol and ‘call on Congress to stop the steal.’
Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall (right) was grilled by Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (left) on his ties to the January 6 Capitol riot on the fourth day of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Marshall chaired an organization that was responsible for a robocall urging people to ‘stop the steal’
Marshall revealed when pressed on Thursday that he was not in Washington on January 6 nor has the House committee investigating the riot reached out to him.
‘Is Joseph R. Biden of Delaware the duly elected and lawfully serving president of the United States of America?’ Whitehouse asked.
Marshall pointedly answered, ‘He is the president of this country.’
The Democrat lawmaker pressed again but got the same reply.
He asked, ‘Are you answering that, omitting the language “duly elected and lawfully serving,” purposefully?’
‘I’m answering the question — he is the president of the United States,’ Marshall answered.
The senator tried one final time, asking: ‘And you have no view as to whether he was duly elected or is lawfully serving?’
‘I’m telling you he’s the president of the United States,’ the Alabama official replied firmly.
Jackson is a federal judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Her conduct in the face of political grandstanding this week and her extensive resumé have earned the jurist bipartisan praise
Jackson, a federal jurist on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has been widely lauded for her even-handed conduct during the marathon hearings. Democrats hope her impressive resumé will ensure a smooth confirmation, while Republicans have sought to paint Jackson as a liberal activist who is soft on child porn crimes and brought up her work as a public defender representing Guantanamo Bay detainees.
At one point GOP Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — who has been floated as a potential 2024 contender — questioned Marshall on what message he thought a judge sends when they hand down a significantly lighter sentence than what prosecutors recommended.
During the character witness portion of the hearings, Marshall refused multiple times to say whether Biden was the ‘duly elected and lawfully serving’ president, instead pointedly referring to him as ‘the president’
Marshall said he would be ‘gravely concerned, not only as it relates to that particular case, but also the message it sends to the community about how it would hold individuals personally accountable for crimes they commit.’
‘So in other words, if you have a judge who consistently sentences let’s say, in an area — let’s say child pornography — below what the government is asking for, what guidelines are asking for, you’re saying the message that sends is, is that you’re not very tough on this, you’re not willing to hold these people accountable. Is that — have I got that right?’ Hawley asked.
Marshall said ‘absolutely.’
Hawley continued to press him on the scale of such crimes, asking: ‘If you have an offender that has thousands of images, that that’s probably worse than an offender who has one or two? And that you might want to send that offender with hundreds and thousands more than the person who has one or two?’
The Alabama official agreed.
‘And in fact, it’s been my practice, you know, as somebody that has tried and convicted those who traffic in child pornography,’ Marshall answered.
He said that a judge and their court should be ‘the ultimate voice’ for children affected by such heinous crimes.
‘I wish that Judge Jackson shared your perspective, general,’ Hawley said.
Hawley drilled in Republicans’ assertions that Jackson is soft on sentencing child pornography offenders, asking Marshall what ‘message’ judges who delivered sentences below prosecutors’ recommendations sends to their community
Republicans honed in on one case in particular — in 2013, Jackson sentenced an 18-year-old named Rodney Hawkins to three months in prison and six years of supervised release for possessing numerous images and videos of young boys, some under age 13, engaging in sex acts.
Hawkins was arrested after swapping images with an undercover detective. Investigators said at the time that he was fully cooperative and took responsibility for his actions.
The teen, a gay man raised in a religious family, personally wrote Jackson a letter apologizing for his actions and vowing to ‘never do this again or any crime ever in my life.’ The letter was reported by the New York Times.
Prosecutors had asked for two years in prison because his ownership of the images was ‘extremely troubling and deserving of punishment.’ Hawkins’ lawyer asked for one day of confinement, citing his age and ’emerging mental illness.’
Throughout her earlier hearings Jackson insisted that she’s handed down sentences based on a number of factors, including specific evidence in each case, outside of just federal guidelines.
She also noted that there were in fact no mandatory sentencing guidelines for sex offenders — something that’s been a topic of fierce debate.
The judge admitted that some of those cases were ‘among the worst that I have seen’ and still gave her nightmares.
Jackson also defended her record as acting within the policy constraints set by Congress.
Democrats have defended her record by noting that Jackson’s sentencing decisions as a district judge were in line with bipartisan-appointed jurists across the country.
But the criticism of her history as a public defender taking on the US government in torture cases, her sentencing record and refusal to weigh in on expanding the Supreme Court have raised concerns that she’ll face a steep wall of Republican opposition.
Even so, Jackson’s nomination is likely to pass if every Democrat in the Senate votes in favor of it — with Vice President Kamala Harris then casting the tie-breaking vote.
Thanks to a 2013 change in Senate rules, judicial appointments only need a simply majority to be confirmed.
If confirmed Jackson will be the first black woman ever to serve on the high court, and only the third black Justice in US history after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas.
She would also be the first former public defender to sit on the Supreme Court.