Jonah Goldberg

Why make this complicated?

President Obama prefers Supreme Court justices who will violate their oath of office. And he hopes Sonia Sotomayor is the right Hispanic woman for the job. Here's the oath Supreme Court justices must take:

"I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (title) under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

Contrast that with Obama's insistence that the "quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles" is the key qualification for a Supreme Court justice. According to White House talking points, Judge Sotomayor's "American story" of humble origins -- she was raised in the South Bronx -- best prepares her for the high court because it shows "she understands that upholding the rule of law means going beyond legal theory to ensure consistent, fair, common-sense application of the law to real-world facts."

Obama says law and precedent should determine rulings in "95 percent of the cases." But in the really hard and important cases, justices should go with their heart. "In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy."

Now, keep in mind that 5 percent of Supreme Court cases isn't everything, but it's nearly 100 percent of what we argue about as a country. For the hard cases Americans care most about, Obama says empathy should rule.

So, what's wrong with empathy?

Well, nothing. Empathy is a fine thing, and all decent people should employ it, including Supreme Court justices.

But Obama has something specific in mind when he talks about empathy. He wants the justice's oath to in effect be rewritten. Judges must administer justice with respect to persons, they must be partial to the poor, and so on.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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