Ahead of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearing next week, right-wing media outlets and fringe online forums have spread a baseless smear that the Supreme Court nominee has a history of allowing sex offenders “off the hook.” This false narrative picked up steam after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) posted an 18-part Twitter thread condemning Jackson for her “alarming” treatment of sex offenders.
Claims that Jackson is lenient toward sex offenders date back to late February, when a conservative opposition research organization called the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) published an "investigation" into the judge’s judicial and academic background.
AAF cited an unsigned note written by Jackson for the Harvard Law Review, in which Jackson expressed criticism for the “excessiveness” of punitive measures placed on released sex offenders and advocated for the consideration of a less punitive and more preventative approach. Without proper context, AAF used the note as an opportunity to label Jackson a “radical Leftist,” with the founder of the organization saying that “Jackson’s radical position raises questions on her suitability to serve on the court. Is she more interested in social justice engineering or administering justice?”
These claims are entirely unfounded and part of a right-wing media campaign to paint Jackson as a radical, despite her moderate record, and scuttle her confirmation. This smear campaign has also included attempts to connect her to the QAnon-adjacent “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which falsely claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant hid a secret pedophilia ring.
This is not the first time that right-wing politicians and media figures have alluded to pedophilia as a cudgel for attacks on liberals. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “I’m troubled by it because it’s so outrageous. It really tests the committee as to whether we’re going to be respectful in the way we treat this nominee.” Additionally, legal scholars have pointed out the groundless nature of Hawley’s accusations toward Jackson, who has received multiple endorsements from high-ranking law enforcement officials.
In fact, in one of the cases Hawley mentioned, United States v. Sears, Jackson denied compassionate release during the COVID-19 pandemic to a man convicted of possessing child pornography. In United States v. Charles Hillie, Jackson also denied a man attempting to dismiss federal child pornography charges.
Even though the claims in AAF’s report initially received only modest coverage from conservative outlets, Hawley’s Twitter remarks led to the rapid spread of the accusations against Jackson throughout the right-wing media ecosystem:
- During the March 17 edition of Hannity, the Fox News host invited Hawley on to the program to further smear Jackson and said that she has “a record that will endanger children.”
- During the March 17 airing of The Tipping Point on OAN, RedState editor Brandon Morse voiced QAnon-related conspiracy theories claiming that high-ranking Democrats are pedophiles. He added that Jackson “has a scary history when it comes to pedophilia or handling people who are pedophiles. It's one more drop in the bucket when it comes to dealing with the left and their problem with pedophilia.”
- Townhall: “SCOTUS Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's Record on Sex Offenders Raises Concerns in the Senate.”
- The Daily Wire: “Hawley: Biden SCOTUS Nominee ‘Has A Pattern Of Letting Child Porn Offenders Off The Hook.’”
- Twitchy: “YIKES: Josh Hawley’s thread on SCOTUS pick Ketanji Brown Jackson shows DISTURBING pattern of her letting child porn offenders ‘off the hook.’”
- Washington Examiner: “Hawley cites 'alarming pattern' in Supreme Court pick's treatment of sex offenders.”
- Fox News: “Sen. Hawley warns of Biden SCOTUS pick's 'long record' of letting child porn offenders 'off the hook.'”
- While on Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic podcast, AAF’s Terry Schilling claimed that Jackson’s record on child predators is “tied to the sexual revolution” and the “Black Lives Matter movement.” He added, “The Supreme Court is actually a major problem when it comes to protecting children across the board. In fact they're the reason we're not able to protect children online from pornography, just, you know, hetero – adult pornography.”
Hawley’s accusations also spread to fringe online platforms, including forums associated with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
- QAnon forum The Great Awakening posted a link to an article titled “Sen. Josh Hawley Uncovered A Disturbing Pattern From Biden’s SCOTUS Nominee And Child Sex Crimes.”
- Another post on The Great Awakening with the title “Biden’s SCOTUS nominee has got a soft spot for pedophiles” promoted screenshots of Hawley’s Twitter thread and received hundreds of upvotes.
- The far-right forum The Donald made an identical post and amassed over 3,100 upvotes in less than 24 hours.
- On Gab, a platform known for harboring white supremacists online, the anti-abortion outlet Life Site News echoed Hawley’s accusations that Jackson has an ”’alarming’ record of letting child porn offenders ‘off the hook.’” Gab CEO Andrew Torba also reposted the story.