SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2022
A potent instructional moment: Why was Wesley Hawkins, 19 years of age at the time, sentenced to (only) three months in prison back in 2013?
This became a leading question in this week's confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson has been nominated to, and will soon sit on, the United States Supreme Court.
Back in 2013, why did Judge Jackson sentence Hawkins to (only) three months in prison, instead of to the 24 months requested by the prosecution? Instead of to the 18 months recommended by the probation department?
All in all, at the end of the day, it's a perfectly reasonable question. It's also a thoroughly straightforward question. On its face, you wouldn't think the question would be hard to answer.
That said, did the question ever get answered this week? As far as we know, it did not.
As far as we know, Judge Jackson never answered that question during this week's hearings. (We're continuing to search the transcripts, trying to see if she actually did.)
Here at this site, we suspect we know why Hawkins didn't receive a longer prison sentence. We could be wrong in our assessment, but we'd be willing to take a guess.
Beyond that, we aren't sure that Hawkins, 19 years old at the time, should have been sentenced to prison at all! We aren't saying that Judge Jackson was wrong to impose a (short) prison sentence. We are saying this:
In our view, it isn't obvious, in any way, that the sentence should have been longer.
We suspect we know why Judge Jackson imposed that shorter sentence. We also suspect we know why she never really explained her decision this week.
These questions all arose in the course of the latest set of highly contentious confirmation hearings. Then too, along came the highly scripted tribal reactions of our floundering national press corps.
What explains that three-month sentence? What do we mean when we say that Judge Jackson never answered that question?
Also, was it wrong when Senator Hawley (R-Mo.) brought that question center stage? If Hawley was wrong in what he did, what was his specific error?
We'll explore these questions next week, sifting through the broken discourse which emerged from this week's events. For today, we'll only say it again:
From our perspective, it isn't clear that Wesley Hawkins, age 19, should have been sentenced to prison at all. Others would have favored a much longer sentence. As best we can tell, they're entitled to that view, and we don't regard it as crazy.
In theory, we're all entitled to our views—but do we know how to respect the views of Others? Also, are we able to notice the occasional, extremely minor imperfections which may emerge, on the rarest occasions, from those on our own side of the aisle?
Are we able to traffic in minor complexity now? Or is it all tribalized Storyline—Storyline all the way down?
Fuller disclosures: The Washington Post has interviewed Hawkins, who's now 27. To read that report, click here.