Empathy is Not Prejudice

EMPATHY IS NOT PREJUDICE: it is the ability to imagine the point of view of the other. Without this ability to engage in thoughtful outreach, beyond one’s own personal realm of experience, and empathize with the human situation of the other, no jurist can begin to understand the human meaning of the arguments made in their court, and objectivity remains wholly beyond their reach. Empathy is not sympathy.

Sympathy means feeling what the other feels, experiencing grief at the other’s grief, loyalty in kind with the other’s loyalties, taking sides; empathy is the ability to comprehend the meaning of another’s experiences, and does not entail adopting or sharing the other’s views. Empathy for a judge means the ability to see how both parties arguing before a court could arrive there based on legitimate human experiences and assertions about the protections and provisions of the law.

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What Sonia Sotomayor Actually Said in 2001 Lecture

In 2001, Sonia Sotomayor delivered a speech to the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, entitled “A Latina Judge’s Voice”. It was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, and has been reproduced by The New York Times this month online.

A quote taken from that speech has raised controversy, as conservatives alleged Sotomayor declared her willingness to use race as a means of judging the law. In fact, she argued against that sort of bias. The controversial quote, part of a discussion on the question of whether every wise old judge shares the same specific type of wisdom, is as follows:

First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope 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.

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Obama’s Legal Scholarship Suggests Moderate Pragmatist Pick for Court

Pres. Barack Obama is in a unique position, both among American lawyers and even among US presidents: not only will he be able to place at least one Justice on the Supreme Court, he will do so with a wealth of experience in legal scholarship behind him. His work as Harvard Law Review president and Constitutional law professor give him a deep background understanding of the Supreme Court’s rulings.

Friends and former colleagues remind that Obama has not been known for pushing a liberal agenda through his analysis or use of the law. His view of the Supreme Court, it is said, is that it should not be too far ahead of public opinion on effecting important progress.

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