Issues & Insights

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Dave Aronberg And Jeffrey Epstein

Federal election records show newly anointed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has given money to just two politicians, both Democrats: Barack Obama and Dave Aronberg.

Obama was an obvious recipient of her largesse. She worked on his 2008 presidential campaign, and he repaid the favor by appointing her to the U.S. Sentencing Commission followed by the D.C. District Court, while also commuting the three-strikes prison sentence of her cocaine-trafficking uncle.

But who is Aronberg? He is a high school friend of Jackson from Florida, who, like her, has been accused of being soft on child sex offenders. The two were also classmates at Harvard Law School. Her financial gift to him is yet another data point indicating she is strangely not happy with laws protecting kids from sexual predators. With the Senate Thursday voting to confirm her 53-47, she is now in a lifetime position to review the constitutionality of those laws.

In 2009, Jackson donated $250 to Aronberg, then a Democratic Florida state senator (she contributed a total of $950 to Obama the previous year, records show). At the time, Aronberg had been in the news for pushing a controversial bill to cut in half the distance registered sex offenders are required to live from schools, daycare centers, parks and other places kids congregate.

Jackson complained about such laws while attending Harvard Law with Aronberg.

In 1996, the year they both graduated, Jackson wrote an 18-page brief in the Harvard Law Review arguing that the judicial system was unfair to people who sexually prey on children, because it sentences them to monitoring and treatment after prison, which she viewed as additional “punishment” masquerading as prevention. Although the Supreme Court has upheld such requirements, she complained that “community notification subjects ex-convicts to stigmatization and ostracism, and puts them at the mercy of a public that is outraged by sex crimes.” She further worried that ordering offenders to enter mental health facilities deprives them of their “fundamental right to freedom,” and she suggested that its real purpose is satisfying “the societal interest in locking sex offenders up and throwing away the key.”

As a D.C. trial judge, Jackson sympathized with child porn offenders having to register as sex offenders and distance themselves from schools, parks and daycares.

For example, before giving child porn offender Wesley Keith Hawkins just three months in prison, she apologized for having to give him any time at all. “This is a truly difficult situation,” she told Hawkins at his 2013 sentencing. “I appreciate that your family is in the audience. I feel so sorry for them and for you and for the anguish that this has caused all of you.” Then she told him, “I feel terrible about the collateral consequences of this conviction,” explaining that “sex offenders are truly shunned in our society, but I have no control over the collateral consequences.”

Back to Aronberg, who appears to share Jackson’s sympathies.

In 2008, he proposed Tallahassee decrease distance requirements between sexual predators and children. He urged the legislature to pass a new law making it easier for sex offenders released from prison to find housing by creating a standard 1,500-foot residency restriction throughout Florida versus the 3,000-foot restrictions many cities required. The new distance he proposed between predators and areas where there are concentrations of children amounted to less than a third of a mile.

Aronberg’s bill was defeated and he was widely reviled as soft on sex predators. In 2010, he pushed a bill to decriminalize teenage sexting – or sending nude photos by text message – but it too flopped. Bad publicity from the defeats didn’t stop him from running for state attorney in Palm Beach County, stomping grounds of the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. Aronberg won the race in 2012, succeeding his close friend and ally Barry Krischer.

Krischer would later be investigated for going easy on Epstein, charging him only as a “john” and treating his underage victims as if they were prostitutes. The state attorney refused to prosecute Epstein on serious child sex-crime charges as police recommended. Krischer did not pursue allegations that Epstein lured dozens of minors to his Palm Beach mansion for sex. The serial molester ended up serving just 13 months in an empty wing of the county stockade where he was pampered beyond belief. He was allowed to leave the jail 12 hours a day, six days a week and when he was actually behind bars his cell was unlocked and he was allowed to watch TV in a conference room. A woman reportedly was flown in to have sex with Epstein while he was serving on “work-release” at his fancy office in downtown Palm Beach where a chauffeur drove him back and forth from the stockade.

In 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered an investigation of the irregularities. In an executive order, he relieved Aronberg of any role in the probe in case it led back to his office. Aronberg had let his old pal Krischer work as as volunteer and be sworn in as an assistant state attorney. He also hired Krischer’s former spokesman.

The Palm Beach Post accused Aronberg of helping cover up Krischer’s alleged sweetheart deal with Epstein by refusing to turn over grand jury testimony, which allegedly revealed his office brought only one teen victim before the jury and undermined her by showing jurors her social media posts. Aronberg agreed to release jury transcripts and other records only after the Post sued him.

Last year, the state investigation found no corruption in the handling of Epstein, who earlier was found hanged in a Manhattan jail cell after he was charged in New York with sex trafficking of underage girls, although investigators did find that Epstein received “differential treatment” while in custody compared with other inmates. The grand jury transcripts were never released.

But the recent Ghislaine Maxwell trial revealed dozens of girls as young as 13 had been procured and sexually abused by Epstein, who ran an international sex ring with Maxwell.

Aronberg was not implicated in the state probe of irregularities in the Epstein case and was reelected in Palm Beach without opposition. Earlier this year, he endorsed his old friend Jackson for the high court, calling her “a living legend.”

“If I had ever expected anyone that I knew to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be Ketanji Brown,” Aronberg gushed.

Paul Sperry is an investigative reporter for RealClearInvestigations. He is also a longtime media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Sperry was previously the Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily, and his work has appeared in the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Houston Chronicle, among other major publications.

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