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Why so much worry about 'empathy' on the Supreme Court?

The New York Times reports that President Obama is avoiding the word empathy as he picks his second Supreme Court nominee. And who can blame him, considering comments such a this from former Bush 43 adviser Ed Gillespie: “Empathy’s a great trait in a drinking buddy, but not so much a Supreme Court justice.”

But does the E-word really deserve all of this focus? Shouldn’t the priority be finding a Supreme Court justice who isn’t, say, corruptible or mendacious? Is it better to have a corporate stooge on the bench than someone capable of understanding how his or her decisions will affect 300 million fellow citizens? Better to have a biased judge than a humane one, a dishonest justice instead of one who’s insightful?

Obama’s critics might say that this is all rhetorical excess: after all, not picking a dishonest judge is a requirement assumed by all. Perhaps, but it still goes to show how hysterical those critics have become about empathy. It is simply ridiculous to place it so high on the list of undesirable traits for a Supreme Court justice.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel  | April 28, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  vanden Heuvel  | Tags:  Katrina vanden Heuvel  
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Comments

The supreme court is a challenge, I mean, we were screaming about his appointment last time around and his appointment voted against corporations being classified as a person with free speech, that wasn't Obama's court that voted for corps crush the avg man, it was Bush's court...go figure, and here I am worrying about abortion. What does abortion matter when the supreme court says a corp can spend unlimited amounts of cash on campaigns, I gotta get a grip.. check out this story


http://bit.ly/b3p32Q

Posted by: republicanblack | April 28, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

The role of the Supreme Court is to legally adjudicate based on constitutional frameworks. It must rules based on constitutional rights. That is necessary in a country with so many cultures, social, business, and physical environments.

Empathy should be applied by local judges when ruling from the court on individual issues, and by Congress when framing and passing legislation, when the issues are people's rights.

But under no stretch of imagination should the Supremes rule on empathy..for whom..who gains and who loses? It is expected that a former community organizer would expect empathy to be a tool at the highest legal decision levels.

Posted by: HarGru | April 28, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Lady Justice wears a blindfold.

But, I guess if your choices are an empathetic judge versus a dishonest judge, then the dishonest judge would be much easier to get rid of.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | April 28, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Empathy is important because you are dealing with human beings.

Posted by: orange3 | April 29, 2010 6:01 AM | Report abuse

Yonkers, New York
29 April 2010

Empathy as a litmus test for picking a justice of the Supreme Court?

Give me a break!

Anybody who thinks that empathy should be such a litmus test must be from one of the planets orbiting Centauri.

Mariano Patalinjug

Posted by: MPatalinjug | April 29, 2010 6:09 AM | Report abuse

The litmus test should be for a judge who rules on constitutionality without trying to create new interpretations of it to fit his/her agenda, period.

A Supreme Court Justice shouldn't be ruling based on empathy or even on how his ruling may effect the citizenry. The only question that should be coming into play for any decision is "Is this constitutional or not?" It should *not* be "What's the best ruling for the majority and/or pitiable person(s) and how do I make it fly?"

Posted by: sullivanjc | April 29, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Whether empathy in how the Constitution is interpreted is good or bad, the either/or situation described is unworthy of a WAPO columnist. Where in the statement that empathy is not a desirable trait for a Supreme Court justice is there even a hint that the alternative is a dishonest, biased, corporate stooge? Is it impossible to find someone who does not believe empathy is a desirable trait and yet still decides cases based on his or her honest interpretation of what the Constitution requires?

Posted by: wvanpup | April 29, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

If you look at the history of the court and wonder why some went in directions we now see as "wrong" it is empathy that separates many of the justices. But it is not sympathy that we want - but empathy.

Big difference.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 29, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

If you look at the history of the court and wonder why some went in directions we now see as "wrong" it is empathy that separates many of the justices. But it is not sympathy that we want - but empathy.

Big difference.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 29, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

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