There has been a lot of conversation lately about how the ability to identify with another person’s circumstance makes one unqualified to wear the judicial robe. Since President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the word empathy has taken a beating. The other day, Dick Cheney came out in support of gay marriage, stating “freedom means freedom for everyone”aI guess Cheney finally allowed himself to share the empathy he felt for his daughter with the rest of the country. But why should it be acceptable to only show empathy to those we are closest to? Empathy should not be considered a hindrance to fair and balanced judgment.
Just because Judge Sotomayor feels empathetic does not mean she doesn’t believe in the Constitution and carrying out the rule of law. It is the absence of empathy in our country’s elected and appointed leaders that we should fear. Because of empathetic judges we have rulings like Brown vs. the Board of Education and Gideon vs. Wainwright. It took Justices with heart and conviction to change course, put an end to Jim Crow and insert real justice into American society. The documents drafted by our Founding Fathers have grown organically and adapted over the course of our country’s history, giving women the right to vote and ending legal racial segregation as examples. As we now embark upon the new civil rights battle of the 21st century with gay rights, we can only hope that our justices will rule using both their heads and their hearts. Smart well-intentioned people can and should be able to do both.