To recap, Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced that he’s retiring from the Court.
President Obama then laid out his criteria for selecting a new Justice, which included the quality of empathy (which should be no surprise, considering that he called for judicial empathy way back in 2007).
Obama’s mention of the scary and perhaps tantalizingly foreign-sounding word “empathy” has driven the GOP into ever-heightening states of abject apoplexy at the ludicrous suggestion that a judge should possess an emotion that allows a human being to step into the shoes of another.
I know, I know; I shouldn’t expect anything out of the GOP right now besides lies, misdirection and childish name-calling. However, this furor over “empathy” has really stuck in my craw. I’ve been meaning to write a big post on it but Dahlia Lithwick appears to have done the job even better than I could:
One is surely entitled to say that President Obama’s repeated claim that he seeks “empathy” in a replacement for Justice David Souter is something less than a crisp constitutional standard. But the Republican war on empathy has started to border on the deranged, and you can’t help but wonder to what purpose.
Webster’s defines empathy as “the experiencing as one’s own the feelings of another.” Obama, in The Audacity of Hope, described empathy as “a call to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.” To Obama, empathy chiefly means applying a principle his mother taught him: asking, “How would that make you feel?” before acting. Empathy in a judge does not mean stopping midtrial to tenderly clutch the defendant to your heart and weep. It doesn’t mean reflexively giving one class of people an advantage over another because their lives are sad or difficult. When the president talks about empathy, he talks not of legal outcomes but of an intellectual and ethical process: the ability to think about the law from more than one perspective.
But Republicans have gathered up their flaming torches and raised their fists to loudly denounce empathy and all empathy-based behavior as evil. Last Friday, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, sitting in for Bill Bennett on the Morning in America syndicated radio show, blurted out, “Crazy nonsense empathetic! I’ll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind!” Nice…
When did the simple act of recognizing that you are not the only one in the room become confused with lawlessness, activism, and social engineering? For a group so vociferously devoted to textualism and plain meaning, conservative critics have an awfully elastic definition of the word empathy. It expands to cover any sort of judicial malfeasance they can imagine. Empathy—the quality of caring what others may feel—signals intellectual weakness, judicial immodesty, favoritism, bias, and grandiosity. John Yoo also seems to be of the view that the kind of emotional incontinence that begins with empathy for others quickly leads to being “emotive” on the bench. Evidently it’s a short hop from empathy to having the judicial vapors.
From a textualist perspective, I would also like to highlight for our Dear GOP Leaders some antonyms to the concept of empathy:
indifference: “a lack of interest or concern”Hmm, come to think of it, those words seem to capture pretty succinctly the GOP’s preferred approach to politics and appellate jurisprudence.
disregard: “a lack of regard or attention; neglect”
callousness: “feeling or showing no sympathy for others”
unconcern: “the absence of feeling or concern”
Update: Here’s a more fulsome quote from the article Lithwick cites above, written by conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec:
[D]o we know empathy when we see it? Maybe not. Conditioned to receive the standard resume consisting of high grades, a court clerkship, practice with a large corporate law firm, followed by service on an appellate bench, the Judiciary Committee would be baffled by a woman lawyer who took time from practice to raise her children; the law graduate who taught secondary school or the volunteer in AmeriCorps; or even the sole practitioner whose work is seldom highly paid, except in the satisfaction derived from bearing other people’s burdens as “family lawyer.”
Equally baffling to the committee will be the notion that one can be empathetic toward all sides of a dispute. By this rubric, there would be no Court seat for the prophet Micah whose admonition “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is frequently referenced by speakers wishing to inspire newly minted lawyers.
Obama proposes to make Micah’s plea for justice more than graduation fodder. To do this, it is possible that he will mine for legal talent in unusual places, but it is more likely he will attempt to find a nominee with appellate court experience whose skill set also shows the capability of challenging methods of interpretation that otherwise wouldn’t give empathy the time of day. If Obama succeeds even with this more limited challenge, he will have exploded the notion that swapping out a Souter for a new, most likely younger and intellectually energetic, justice is without effect.
- The Iran Framework Makes Me Sad, Counterintuitively (1)
- Obama’s Folly? (3)
- Schu: The who point of asking for a Congressional approval or guidance on using war powers was to derail the Tea Party lead GOP Chicken...
- Lev: Still think boldness in pursuit of peace could help a little. But outside of Iran he’s disinclined to show it.
- Metavirus: it’s hard to argue with the maxim that the unwashed masses love politicians who seem like WINNERS. i can’t...
- "You’re A Really Shitty Christian And God Hates You" (29)
- DoYouHateMe: My last sentence stands. Thanks for curtailing the profanity. Just because there are hypocrites in Christianty...
- Metavirus: my post wasn’t about televangelists. it was about the millions of everyday christians who talk sanctimony out of one...
- DoYouHateMe: It is sad to see so many people who are misled into thinking that televangelists are a true representation of Christ. They...
- Still Not Entirely Sure (1)
- Fox News Has a First Amendment Right to Lie – Updated (97)
- I Beg You, Please Stop Misusing The Term "Show Trial"
- Conservadems Help Pass Reckless Estate Tax Bill
- State of the Wisconsin Recall
- Texas Agency Censors Out Climate Change Material From Study It Commissioned
- Ahmadinejad Heckled and Mocked Leaving Mosque - Video
- Approval for GOP Leaders Plummets - Among Republicans!
- School Districts to Shun Presidential Address
- Dumb Fox News: 30;] Posted by kmiller1610 link please K, k. Fox News Has a First Amendment Right to Lie ? Updated...
- Richard Morris, Author: Protecting our soldiers and citizens from torture
- Page 7 - Christian Forums: Fox News declares female fighter pilot "boobs on the ground"
- ThePoliticalBandit.com: Decisions That Led Up To Death Of Democracy In America
- Clown Town: The Moment of Impending Crisis
- April 2015 (12)
- March 2015 (11)
- February 2015 (18)
- January 2015 (24)
- December 2014 (18)
- November 2014 (28)
- October 2014 (16)
- September 2014 (19)
- August 2014 (22)
- July 2014 (26)
- June 2014 (27)
- May 2014 (21)
- April 2014 (25)
- March 2014 (21)
- February 2014 (33)
- January 2014 (31)
- December 2013 (25)
- November 2013 (32)
- October 2013 (57)
- September 2013 (32)
- August 2013 (57)
- July 2013 (56)
- June 2013 (44)
- May 2013 (42)
- April 2013 (41)
- March 2013 (66)
- February 2013 (42)
- January 2013 (74)
- December 2012 (67)
- November 2012 (44)
- October 2012 (51)
- September 2012 (35)
- August 2012 (50)
- July 2012 (36)
- June 2012 (35)
- May 2012 (51)
- April 2012 (42)
- March 2012 (64)
- February 2012 (85)
- January 2012 (79)
- December 2011 (68)
- November 2011 (76)
- October 2011 (67)
- September 2011 (55)
- August 2011 (53)
- July 2011 (44)
- June 2011 (71)
- May 2011 (103)
- April 2011 (107)
- March 2011 (120)
- February 2011 (124)
- January 2011 (82)
- December 2010 (97)
- November 2010 (92)
- October 2010 (93)
- September 2010 (80)
- August 2010 (44)
- July 2010 (63)
- June 2010 (33)
- May 2010 (60)
- April 2010 (34)
- March 2010 (50)
- February 2010 (66)
- January 2010 (67)
- December 2009 (72)
- November 2009 (78)
- October 2009 (91)
- September 2009 (75)
- August 2009 (105)
- July 2009 (81)
- June 2009 (178)
- May 2009 (152)
- April 2009 (147)
- March 2009 (86)
- February 2009 (52)
- January 2009 (118)
- December 2008 (18)
Wine Labels2012 Election Abortion Barack Obama Bullshit Bush Christianity Congress Conservatives Corruption Debt Ceiling Democrats Economy Fail Foreign Policy Fox News Gay Marriage Hatred Health Care Ignorance Insanity Law LGBT Issues Libertarianism Lies Media Mitt Romney Music Policy Polls Quotes Racism Rebuttals Recession Republicans Right Wing Sarah Palin Scandal Stupidity Teabaggers Torture Truth Video War Crimes War on Drugs War on Terror