As a columnist, I pay attention to what politicians say and do. And I keep the receipts.
The politicians hate that. They prefer to live in the moment and not have their words or actions recited back to them in ways that reveal them to be inconsistent, dishonest or hypocritical.
Now, as I reflect on the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, I’m having trouble reconciling the law and order talk by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with the GOP’s ambiguous record on crime and punishment.
Republicans who consider Jackson “soft on crime” point to one case in particular. In 2013, while serving as a U.S. District Court Judge, she decided the fate of a young man named Wesley Hawkins. Then 19 years old, Hawkins was convicted of uploading videos of boys engaged in sex acts, emailing pornography and being in possession of more than 30 pornographic videos and images of boys on his phone and laptop.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for eight to 10 years. Prosecutors wanted two years. A U.S. probation officer recommended a year and a half.
Jackson handed down a prison term of just three months, followed by three months of home detention and six years of supervision.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., termed the sentence “a slap on the wrist,” and repeatedly pummeled Jackson for not imposing a harsher sentence.
I support Jackson’s nomination. I also supported the nominations of all three Supreme Court justices put on the bench by former President Donald Trump. A president gets to pick judges; senators don’t.
Still, in the Hawkins case, I agree with Hawley. Three months in prison is absurdly lenient for someone guilty of what Jackson acknowledged was “a very serious and, in many ways, heinous crime, one that capitalizes on the victimization of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
But, as the son of a retired cop, I can argue with a straight face for being tough on crime and imposing harsher penalties on criminals. The GOP can’t. The party is compromised by a history of using kid gloves to deal with offenders, lawbreakers and outlaws who are part of their tribe.
I’ve written about the immigration debate for more than 30 years, and one of the best examples of Republican leniency is their hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to U.S. employers who flout the law by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Republicans in Congress — for whom campaign contributions are like oxygen — would rather build walls than bite the hands that feed them.
Republicans are also quite forgiving of criminals with connections.
Former President George W. Bush — the last grownup Republican to occupy the White House — pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 200 people. They included Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in June 2007 convicted of perjury in connection with the leak scandal involving the “outing” of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but Bush commuted his sentence.
Former President Donald Trump — who may yet need a “Get Out of Jail Free” card of his own — pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 237 people. They included ex-lawman turned outlaw Joe Arpaio. The former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to end the practice of “profiling” and rounding up those he suspected were undocumented immigrants. Arpaio was awaiting sentencing when Trump pardoned him in August 2017.
In making the case that Republicans are soft on certain types of crime, Exhibit A is the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Normally tough-talking Republicans such as former Attorney General William Barr downplay the event as a “riot that got out of hand.” Republicans have fought the congressional investigation into alleged criminal conspiracies to overtake the Capitol and overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Then there is the hooey about the GOP supposedly being pro-law enforcement. Got it. Because nothing says “Back the Blue” like going soft on domestic terrorists who attacked Metro DC and U.S. Capitol police officers, including at least one who shouted: “Kill him with his own gun!”
Senate Republicans who claim they oppose the nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court because she’s “soft on crime” need to come up with a better excuse.
Why not just admit that their opposition to Jackson is all about politics, or race, or right-wing ideology?
Never mind. No admission needed. Republicans, we see you — and the clown car you drove up in.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is [email protected]. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.