Thursday, May 28, 2009

What's Wrong With A Little Empathy and Perspective

The reaction to the Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court is very fascinating to me. There is nothing that brings out every legal and cultural difference in the country like a Supreme Court nominee. That shows just how powerful that position is. I hope we can all sift through the crazy people’s opinions and have an honest debate. It probably won’t happen. I want to touch on one of the issues being used against her. There’s been a big deal made about empathy and how her cultural and life experiences may have and effect on her decisions. First of all I blame President Obama for that because he shouldn’t have mentioned it as part of the criteria before he made the choice. Second of all, doesn’t everyone do this anyway even if they don’t say it?

Is there really anyone that can read something or hear a story on the news and not apply their own personal experiences and outlook to their opinions? Even if your job is to interpret and enforce the rule of law, you would have to be conscious of who you are and what you believe even if it was just to remind you of the fact that a certain case may make you biased. If I was a judge ruling on a case involving the Corps of Engineers there is way what happened in New Orleans wouldn’t come into my mind. I would still have to judge the facts and rule accordingly but I would have to address my personal feelings even if it was internal. That would be a natural human response. It’s just like when a story about a problem in the black community comes up and a middle class white person from the suburbs tells me they don’t agree with my stance or see it differently. That’s not a bad thing if I engage them and we exchange our different views on it. In my opinion it’s foolish to think that if five people from different walks of life are sitting in a room reading a story that their background won’t come into play when giving their opinions.

That’s one of the products of having a diverse society. People are going to see issues in different ways. That’s a good thing as long as you don’t want to harm the other person who doesn’t see it the way you do. I think different outlooks and opinions are a good thing even when it involves the law. If there was never any wavering in the written letter of the law then it would probably be illegal for a man that looks like me to express this opinion to the general public. Why nominate a Puerto Rican sister from the Bronx, NY if you don’t want any Puerto Rican Bronx flavor added to the mix? When Justice Thomas who is as conservative as it gets made his dissent on cross burning, you don’t think his experience as a black man growing up in Georgia during the 50’s and 60’s had anything to do with that? The point is everyone’s is affected by their life experiences. If not then we might as well let robots take over.


K. said...

You're entirely too reasonable.

The right has worked themselves into a ridiculous frenzy over Judge Sotomayor. To hear them tell, she stews in her chambers figuring out ways to stick it to whitey from the bench.

Maitri said...

Cliff, I have to disagree. Obama was all too correct for mentioning empathy and cultural/life experiences. Governing in this country, be it from the executive, legislative or judicial end of things, has become way too detached and process-oriented to the point that we have forgotten that this is a government of, for and by the people. A person who doesn't have empathy is, by definition, a sociopath, someone has no business rendering judgments on human decisions and actions. Furthermore, it is about time the privileged white minority of this country faced the hard truth that we are a nation of black, brown, female, multiple religions and not just Christian, male and white. Sotomayor is different, as Obama is different and we need variety and proper representation on the court.

A level playing field does not exist. This is why affirmative action exists, not to give jobs to unqualified women and minorities, but to give them a chance to work and succeed at all. Between their hypocritical and gratuitous uses of the phrases "affirmative action" and "politically correct," the Republicans can kiss my ass. As if Sarah Palin and Clarence Thomas were not AA/PC moves on their part.

Pistolette said...

I see what you mean, and I do think that having her add her unique perspective is the point. Though the hope is that she will use it reasonably and mostly rule based on the books and not irrational emotions. If our government was based only on subjective rules we'd have anarchy.

The main thing the neocons are getting worked up over is her statement about a latina being able to rule better than a white male. It was a blatant sexist *and* racist statement, and she should have to answer for it at the very least. Now that i'm the mother of a white boy i'm becoming rather sensitive to that fact that he'll have to spend his entire life apologizing for things he's never done. If we're going to have a level playing field then it should be just that - LEVEL. If something is taboo for a white guy to say in public, then it should be taboo for a hispanic woman to say it also.

K. said...

You don't think that remark was the slightest bit in jest? And to the extent that it wasn't, there's a germ of practicality in it: 108 of 112 Supreme Court justices have been white men. I would think that Sotomayor's gender and ethnic background does offer the potential for a kind of wisdom we've never had on the Supreme Court. I'm being Jesuitical here, but to the extent that it adds to the body of wisdom on the Court in a way that no previous justice has been able to offer, it's an improvement.

Also, consider the roster of the current court. None of them -- left or right -- will be mistaken any time soon for Thurgood Marshall or Louis Brandeis. It could use some added wisdom.

K. said...

After the remark about a wise Latina woman, Sotomayor went on to say:

"Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

"However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."