Judge Sonia Sotomayor and empathy

The roles of emotion and reason in Supreme Court decision-making

Republicans should confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, but only because a president deserves deference on Supreme Court picks. But conservatives should use the process as a "teaching moment," to shine a light on what President Obama means when he says he wants a justice with "empathy." As Sotomayor showed in a high-profile ruling denying white firefighters promotions because no black candidates passed the same test, Democrats are after a "judicially mandated racial spoils system."

Let's be honest, said Michelle Cottle in The New Republic. "An upper-middle-class white guy reared in the suburbs is shaped by his experiences, carries certain assumptions, and views the world through a particular prism as much as a working-glass Puerto Rican gal from the Bronx" like Judge Sonia Sotomayor. The members of the group that has always dominated a field—the rich white guys—might not have given as much thought to the prism they look through, but that doesn't mean it's "a neutral one."

Americans expect judges to "put aside emotion and unruly passions" and rule on "pure reason," said David Brooks in The New York Times. But nobody can really do that. "The crucial question in evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice, therefore, is not whether she relies on empathy or emotion, but how she does so." So the debate should center on whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor can empathize with everybody, or just "one ethnic group or one social class."

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