If you have ever visited a courthouse, you may have seen a statue of Lady Justice. She is blindfolded, symbolizing the concept that justice is supposed to be blind to the race, gender, educational accomplishment, or financial standing of those who come before her.
Now President Obama has turned our system of jurisprudence on its head by openly saying that judging should be shaped by “empathy” and “compassion.” His comments have made it clear he means that empathy should work in one direction — in favor of minorities and the poor — and his choice as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice underscores that skewed view.
In a 2001 speech, Judge Sonia Sotomayor laid it on the line.
“Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” Sotomayor said. But, she said, “I am . . . not so sure that I agree with the statement. First . . . 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.”
Sotomayor’s ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano demonstrated what that meant. Sotomayor was on a three-judge panel that left standing New Haven’s decision to throw out the promotions of 18 white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter. While those firefighters scored highest on the combined written and oral exam, none of the blacks who took the test achieved high enough scores to merit promotion. In scuttling the promotions, the city claimed the results would underrepresent minorities and could violate civil rights laws. The firefighters sued, charging discrimination that violated their constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Judging from the questions posed by the justices, the court will likely side with the white firefighters. But Obama’s choice of Sotomayor — admirable though her life story is — and his likely selections to fill Supreme Court vacancies in the future mean that the ideal of blind justice is being scrapped.
When it comes to Supreme Court justices, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom,’’ then-candidate Obama said in a July 17, 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood. “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’m going to be selecting my judges.”
Frank Ricci, one of the white firefighters who sued, studied for eight to 13 hours a day to prepare for the 2003 exam. He spent more than $1,000 buying books and — since he is dyslexic — paying a friend to read the books onto audiotapes. Ricci scored sixth highest on the test. But Sotomayor had no compassion for him when Ricci thought he had won promotion and then was told he was not being promoted. After all, Ricci is not black and therefore not worthy of the kind of empathy Obama has said he is seeking.
Given his new standard of justice, Lady Liberty should be depicted without a blindfold, shedding a tear.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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