The Right Stuff: Sex, Lies, and Judicial Confirmations

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
April 8, 2022

On Thursday afternoon, Ketanji Brown Jackson was elevated to the Supreme Court with just three Republican senators supporting her. In an earlier, pre-Trumpian era, Jackson’s historic achievement might have been an occasion for bipartisan celebration. Instead, her confirmation hearing will likely be remembered for the volume of cynical attacks labeling her as sympathetic to child abusers. (On the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson supported the consensus in favor of eliminating mandatory-minimum sentences for first-time offenders in possession of child pornography.) The Washington Post kept count: in four days of hearings, according to transcripts, the phrase “child porn” or “pornography” or “pornographer” was mentioned 165 times. In addition, there were 142 references to sex, 15 references to pedophiles, and 18 references to prepubescents.

From the outside, it’s possible to view the hit on Jackson as simply the latest ratchet in an escalatory cycle of partisan warfare—revenge, as several Republicans acknowledged, for Democrats labeling Brett Kavanaugh as a rapist. “I’m not suggesting she likes what’s happening in child pornography, [but] she has a chance to impose a sentence that would deter [child pornography], and she chose not to,” Senator Lindsey Graham said during the hearing. Shortly after voting against Jackson, he released a video stating “Remember Kavanaugh … The game has changed.” 

But the specific decision to tie Jackson to the scourge of child sexual predation has deeper and more sinister roots—specifically, to QAnon conspiracy theories, deeply entrenched in the far right, which posit that Democratic political elites are part of a global cabal of child sex-traffickers. Crazy as that sounds, about one in five Americans subscribe to various Q-adjacent conspiracy theories, incentivizing Republicans to wink at the fringe while providing themselves plausible deniability. “We’ve been told things like child pornography is actually all a conspiracy, it’s not real,” Senator Josh Hawley said in his closing statement. Of course, literally nobody in Washington is saying that sex crimes against children aren’t real—but the Q bloc got the message.