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Durbin, defending Jackson, says Congress has failed to do its job on sentencing guidelines

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin on Tuesday said Congress has failed to do its job on sentencing guidelines, after Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson faced a 30-minute grilling from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on a sentence she issued in a specific child pornography case.

“I hope we all agree that we want to do everything in our power, reasonably within our power, to lessen the incidence of pornography and exploitation of children. You have made that clear, that is your position, too,” Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “But I just want to tell you, Congress doesn’t have clean hands to this conversation. We haven’t touched this now for 15, 16 or 17 years. And you aren’t the only one who faced this kind of challenge with the cases before you.”

Durbin then referred to a case he mentioned earlier Tuesday involving federal Judge Sarah Pitlick of Missouri, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and whom Hawley backed. The Senate Judiciary chair noted that the judge’s sentence in the case was well below what was recommended by the guidelines.

Hawley attempted to chime in, but Durbin asked to finish his statement. He then turned to the focus of Hawley’s line of questioning, the United States v. Hawkins case, in which Jackson sentenced the defendant to three months, a ruling below the prosecutor’s recommendation of two years.

“She faced a situation where she decided she would not follow the guidelines and took a sentence of less than half of what they recommended,” Durbin said of Pitlick. “We have created a situation because of our inattention and unwillingness to tackle an extremely controversial area in Congress and left it to the judges. And I think we have to accept some responsibility for that, senator.”

The Missouri Republican defended Pitlick for following the prosecutor’s recommendation in that case, adding that his concern with Jackson was that she didn’t follow the prosecutor’s recommendation or the sentencing guidelines in the Hawkins case.

“And I’m happy we have a policy debate about whether or not the guidelines are too lenient. I would argue in this era of exploding child pornography, they’re not too lenient at all. I think you were right the first time when you voted in 2003 to make it tougher,” Hawley said back to Durbin.

The Senate Judiciary then told Hawley he would be looking for a bill from him to change this, noting that there wasn’t a “long line of people waiting to co-sponsor this controversial issue.”

“If we’re going to tackle it, we should,” Durbin said. “But we should concede in the meantime that we’ve left judges in the lurch in many of these situations.”

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