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Monday, July 13, 2009

Is Justice really blind?

"I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God." This is the oath given to a newly appointed Supreme Court Justice.

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for an appointment to the Supreme Court. During the campaign, then Senator Obama promised to nominate judges who showed empathy. This brings up the question “is justice really blind?” As she sits over the courthouses across our great country, Lady Justice is blindfolded and for a reason. She is to judge “without bias or favoritism of any kind.” An appointment to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, no term limits, no elections.

I believe it is a threat to the Constitution of the United States when a President decides that a nominee should have “empathy" and understand "how the world works, and how ordinary people live" ruling on cases before the high court. Our new president and his nominee believe that a Supreme Court justice should bring into account their own feelings, be it political or personal. Instead of focusing on what is, the President thinks that the “critical ingredient for judges is the depth and breadth of one’s empathy” and their “broader vision of what America should be.” What happened to just interpreting the law of the land as it stands now?

Judge Sotomayor considers her ethnicity and gender as defining factors in who she is and how she reaches her decisions, a fact that pleased Obama. In a 2002 lecture, she said, "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." A comment made not only once but on several occasions is no longer a “few words taken out of context” as Sen. Feingold (D-WI) would have you believe. Had a white male said this his nomination would have never seen the light of day. We can see here that skin color and ethnicity trump all. Yes, she is our first Latino nominee and she is a woman, but the novelty should have been worn off by now and we should look at the content of their character. I would have hoped that at this point in our nation’s history, the color of one’s skin and gender would longer be viewed as a reason to elect or nominate them. We need to be looking at what they can bring to the court in the form of impartiality. I wouldn’t want to be appointed to a position simply based on race or gender.

A recent Supreme Court decision affecting Sotomayor couldn’t have come at a worse time. In late 2003, eighteen New Haven firefighters (17 white and 1 Hispanic) were denied promotions because “examination to determine their eligibility to move up yielded no successful black candidates” so the city throw out the exam results. In essence, the city used reverse discrimination in making their decision that the appropriate racial quota was not meet. So the firefighters sued and the case went before the 2nd Court of Appeals which included Judge Sotomayor. The three judges dismissed the case along the lines of reverse discrimination. The firefighters appealed and took the case to the Supreme Court and in June, 2009, the Supreme Court reversed the decision by the 2nd Court of Appeals.

In 2005, while speaking at a Duke Law School Panel, Judge Sotomayor said “the court of appeals is where legislation is made” but then confessed that she know this is on tape and shouldn’t have said it but the cat was out of the bag. She wants to turn the Supreme Court into a legislative making body, clearly going against the role of the Supreme Court as written in the Constitution.

Judge Sotomayor stated that “impartiality may not be possible in all or even most cases," and that a judge’s personal experience affects the facts. She continued by saying that judges "must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt ... continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) poses the question “but if you or I step into a courtroom, shouldn't we be able to do so with confidence that we will get a fair day in court no matter our background, experience, or politics - and no matter the background, experience, or politics of the judge?”

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