On the surface, it was a routine sentencing hearing for one of the more notorious Jan. 6 rioters. Kyle Young, whose lawyer said he was “injected” with political lies, took his teenage son to the U.S. Capitol, violently assaulted police officers, and got caught. Federal prosecutors sought a significant prison sentence.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed, sentencing Young to more than seven years in prison.
But just below the surface, there was a little more to it. In fact, the judge in this case — who has a no-nonsense reputation for not suffering fools gladly — took the opportunity yesterday to contextualize the proceedings.
“You were not prosecuted for being a Trump supporter,” Jackson explained to Young. “You were not arrested or charged, and you will not be sentenced, for exercising your First Amendment rights. You are not a political prisoner.... You were trying to stop the singular thing that makes America America, the peaceful transfer of power. That’s what ‘Stop the Steal’ meant.”
As Politico noted, however, the federal judge also rebuked the Republican leaders who bore responsibility for the violence perpetrated by the defendant and people like him.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said former President Donald Trump had turned his lies about the election into a litmus test for Republican candidates and that “high-ranking members of Congress and state officials” are “so afraid of losing their power” that they won’t contradict him. That fealty, she said, comes even as law enforcement and judges involved in cases related to the former president are facing unprecedented threats of violence.
The jurist went on to marvel at the extent to which GOP leaders are so beholden to “one man” that it has become “heresy” for Republicans to contradict Trump’s election lies.
To be sure, there is a school of thought that suggests judges should steer clear of such commentary, which makes it all the more notable when they speak up.
As we’ve discussed, others have ventured down this path. In November 2021, for example, Judge Amit Mehta sentenced a Jan. 6 rioter named John Lolos, while reflecting on the fact that the criminal was responding to Trump’s call.
Mehta added, “People like Mr. Lolos were told lies, told falsehoods, told our election was stolen when it clearly was not. We’re here today deciding whether Mr. Lolos should spend 30 days in jail when those who created the conditions that led to Mr. Lolos’ conduct, led to the events of Jan. 6 [haven’t been] held to account for their actions and their word.”
Speaking directly to the defendant, the judge continued, “In a sense, Mr. Lolos, I think you were a pawn. You were a pawn in a game directed and played by people who should know better. I think that mitigates your conduct.”
A Politico report added at the time that Mehta wondered aloud about why other judges haven’t focused more on the former president and the degree to which he poisoned the minds of the rioters.
“Once you hear people who should know better tell you that an election was stolen and they say it loudly enough, frequently enough,” the judge said, “it’s not surprising that people will believe it.”
Five months later, after a jury convicted another Jan. 6 rioter, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton shared a few thoughts after the verdict was read. “I think our democracy is in trouble, because unfortunately we have charlatans like our former president, who doesn’t, in my view, really care about democracy but only about power,” the conservative federal jurist said in court.
As Politico’s report added, Jackson yesterday kept the pattern going, making the case that it’s up to the judiciary to help draw the line against democratic dangers.
“[The judiciary] has to make it clear: It is not patriotism, it is not standing up for America to stand up for one man — who knows full well that he lost — instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert,” Jackson said.