I don't think this is open to much debate. When Obama voted against Chief Justice John Roberts' confirmation, he said that Roberts didn't have the "heart" to vote the right way in those 5 percent of cases. Rather than Roberts the Cruel, Obama explained, "we need somebody who's got the heart -- the empathy -- to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old -- and that's the criteria by which I'll be selecting my judges." Cue Sotomayor the Empathic.
The reasoning here is a riot of dubious assumptions. Obama and Sotomayor both assume that a firsthand understanding of the plight of the poor or the African-American or the gay or the old will automatically result in justices voting a certain (liberal) way. "I would hope," Sotomayor said in 2001, "that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." This is not only deeply offensive, it is also nonsense on stilts. Clarence Thomas understands what it is like to be poor and black better than any justice who has ever sat on the bench. How's that working out for liberals?
Of course, liberals say that if you don't agree with their policy prescriptions on, say, racial quotas or abortion, it's because you don't care as much as they do about minorities or women. Which is why they've demonized Thomas as a villainous race-traitor. This, too, is aggressively stupid. But even if it were true, why are we talking about policy preferences and the courts? Judges aren't supposed to have policy preferences, despite Ms. Sotomayor's insistence that the courts are "where policy is made."
More important, who says conservatives are against judicial empathy? I, for one, am all for it. I'm for empathy for the party most deserving of justice before the Supreme Court, within the bounds of the law and Constitution. If that means siding with a poor black man, great. If that means siding with a rich white one, that's great too. The same holds for gays and gun owners, single mothers and media conglomerates. We should all rejoice when justices fulfill their oaths and give everyone a fair hearing, even if that's now out of fashion in the age of Obama.