Democrats Block Hawley Bill to Get Tough on Child Sex Offenders

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) went to the Senate Floor today to call for unanimous consent to pass his PROTECT Act of 2022, which protects children from sexual exploitation by enhancing the penalties for possessing child pornography and preventing judges from sentencing offenders below federal guidelines. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) objected and blocked the bill from passing.

Senator Hawley said, “Child sex trafficking is an exploding epidemic in my state, and around our country. Children are exploited, children are trafficked and those who work in this area, those who prosecute in this area, law enforcement who work day in and day out will tell you that the explosion of child pornography is helping to drive this exploding epidemic of child exploitation and child sex trafficking.”

“The fact that the Senate hasn’t acted until now, is, I think, is shameful for the Senate. But why wait another day? […] I am not willing to sit by and tell the parents of my state that I did nothing. I am not willing to dismiss child exploitation as just some conspiracy theory. I am not willing to abandon the victims of this crime,” Senator Hawley continued following Durbin’s objection.

Senator Durbin, who rebutted, criticized Senator Hawley’s decision to call for a vote after recently introducing the bill in the Senate. “Mr. President, the Senator from Illinois says that Congress hasn’t acted in two decades, that’s true. I haven’t been here for two decades, he has,” replied Senator Hawley.

Senator Durbin, with support from Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.), passed similar legislation in 2003. The PROTECT Act worked. But the Supreme Court gutted it in 2005, in a controversial 5-4 decision called United States v. Booker, allowing judges like Ketanji Brown Jackson the ability to impose lenient sentences on child porn offenders. 

The PROTECT ACT of 2022 would create a new mandatory minimum sentence of five years for every child porn offender who possesses pornography, and prohibit judges from sentencing below the Guidelines range for facts found during trial or admitted by the defendant. This change will ensure that judges impose tougher sentences on child pornography offenders.

View legislative text for the PROTECT Act of 2022 here.