Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson got into the most heated exchange of Wednesday morning after the senator revived a line of attack on the judge’s sentencing record in cases involving images of child sexual abuse.
For Mr. Graham, the exchange was reminiscent of his angry diatribe during the caustic confirmation hearings of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
The flashes of temper were particularly striking coming from a senator who voted less than a year ago to confirm Judge Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Mr. Graham’s aggressive questioning of Judge Jackson over the past two days — which has included rapid-fire rhetorical questions, frequent interruptions and some lengthy, fiery lectures — suggested that he was unlikely to back her for the nation’s highest court.
On Tuesday, Mr. Graham made it clear he was still angry that President Biden had chosen to nominate Judge Jackson over his preferred candidate, Judge J. Michelle Childs, who is from his home state. On Wednesday, he seemed to hold Judge Jackson personally responsible for the treatment that Democrats meted out to Justice Kavanaugh: “He was ambushed,” Mr. Graham thundered. “How would you feel if we did that to you?”
But the real heat of the exchange came when the senator revisited accusations that Judge Jackson had been particularly lenient in her sentencing in cases involving images of child sexual abuse. At one point, he said of consumers of child sex abuse imagery, “put their ass in jail.”
Judge Jackson tried to explain how such cases had changed since Congress passed a law that enhanced sentences based on the number of images found in possession of a defendant. At the time of the law, such images primarily came through the mail, and the number of images indicated the lengths that a consumer had gone to obtain them.
But, she tried to explain over Mr. Graham’s repeated interruptions, in the internet age, huge stores of images can be acquired with a few clicks of a mouse.
“You can be doing this for 15 minutes, and all of a sudden you are looking at 30, 40, 50 years in prison,” she said, when Mr. Graham interrupted, “Good, absolutely good.”
Judge Jackson, a former member of a federal sentencing commission that examined the issue, continued, “Senator, I am trying to explain that our sentencing system that Congress created, the system the sentencing commission is a steward of, is a rational one. It is designed to help judges do justice in the terrible circumstances by eliminating unwarranted disparities, by ensuring that the most serious defendants get the longest periods of time.”
That teed up Mr. Graham’s biting closing shot: “We are trying to get people to stop this crap,” he snapped, adding, “All I can say is that your view on how to deter child pornography is not my view. I think you are doing it wrong, and every judge who does what you are doing is making it easier for the children to be exploited.”
After the questioning, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the dean of the Senate, called Mr. Graham’s performance “beyond the pale,” telling reporters, “I’m just distressed to see this kind of a complete breakdown of what’s normally the way the Senate’s handled.”