One of the biggest and most long-lasting "change" to expect if Barack Obama becomes President of the United States is in the kinds of federal judges he appoints. These include Supreme Court justices, as well as other federal justices all across the country, all of whom will have lifetime tenure.
Senator Obama has stated very clearly what kinds of Supreme Court justices he wants-- those with "the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old."
Like so many things that Obama says, it may sound nice if you don't stop and think-- and chilling if you do stop and think. Do we really want judges who decide cases based on who you are, rather than on the facts and the law?
If the case involves a white man versus a black woman, should the judge decide that case differently than if both litigants are of the same race or sex?
The kind of criteria that Barack Obama promotes could have gotten three young men at Duke University sent to prison for a crime that neither they nor anybody else committed.
Didn't we spend decades in America, and centuries in Western civilization, trying to get away from the idea that who you are determines what your legal rights are?
What kind of judges are we talking about?
A classic example is federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who could have bankrupted a small New Jersey town because they decided to stop putting up with belligerent homeless men who kept disrupting their local public library. Judge Sarokin's rulings threatened the town with heavy damage awards, and the town settled the case by paying $150,000 to the leading disrupter of its public library.
After Bill Clinton became president, he elevated Judge Sarokin from the district court to the Circuit Court of Appeals. Would President Barack Obama elevate him-- or others like him-- to the Supreme Court? Judge Sarokin certainly fits Obama's job description for a Supreme Court justice.
A court case should not depend on who you are and who the judge is. We are supposed to be a country with "the rule of law and not of men." Like all human beings, Americans haven't always lived up to our ideals. But Obama is proposing the explicit repudiation of that ideal itself.
That is certainly "change," but is it one that most Americans believe in? Or is it something that we may end up with anyway, just because too many voters cannot be bothered to look beyond rhetoric and style?
We can vote a president out of office at the next election if we don't like him. But we can never vote out the federal judges he appoints in courts across the country, including justices of the Supreme Court.
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