"Empathy" Versus Law: Part III
Thursday, May 07, 2009
There is a reason why the statue of Justice wears a blindfold. There are things that courts are not supposed to see or recognize when making their decisions-- the race you belong to, whether you are rich or poor, and other personal things that could bias decisions by judges and juries.
It is an ideal that a society strives for, even if particular judges or juries fall short of that ideal. Now, however, President Barack Obama has repudiated that ideal itself by saying that he wants to appoint judges with "empathy" for particular groups.
This was not an isolated slip of the tongue. Barack Obama said the same thing during last year's election campaign. Moreover, it is completely consistent with his behavior and associations over a period of years-- and inconsistent with fundamental principles of American government and society.
Nor is this President Obama's only attempt to remake American society. Barack Obama's vision of America is one in which a President of the United States can fire the head of General Motors, tell banks how to bank, control the medical system and take charge of all sorts of other activities for which neither he nor other politicians have any expertise or experience.
The Constitution of the United States gives no president, nor the entire federal government, the authority to do such things. But spending trillions of dollars to bail out all sorts of companies buys the power to tell them how to operate.
Appointing judges to the federal courts-- including the Supreme Court-- who believe in expanding the powers of the federal government to make arbitrary decisions, choosing who will be winners and losers in the economy and in the society, is perfectly consistent with a vision of the world where self-confident and self-righteous elites rule according to their own notions, instead of merely governing under the restraints of the Constitution.
If all this can be washed down with pious talk about "empathy," so much the better for those who want to remake America. Now that the Obama administration has a Congressional majority that is virtually unstoppable, and a media that is wholly uncritical, the chances of preventing the president from putting someone on the Supreme Court who shares his desire to turn America into a different country are slim or none.
The only thing on the side of those who understand this, and who oppose it, is time. Reshaping the Supreme Court cannot be done overnight, the way Congress passed a vast spending bill in two days.
Replacing Supreme Court justices is something that can only be done one at a time and at unpredictable intervals. What this means is that Senators who do not have enough votes to stop an Obama nominee for the High Court from being confirmed nevertheless have an opportunity- and a duty-- to alert the public to the dangers of what is being done.
This does not mean turning confirmation hearings into a circus or a kangaroo court with mud-slinging at judicial nominees, the way Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were smeared. But it also does not mean taking the path of least resistance by quietly voting for people like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, who treat the Constitution as a grant of arbitrary power to themselves, rather than a restriction of power on the government as a whole.
It is all too easy to say "a president has a right to appoint the kind of people he wants on the Supreme Court." He does. But that does not mean that those who don't have the votes to stop dangerous nominees from being confirmed are obliged to vote for them or to stand mute.
Since Justice David Souter is likely to be replaced by another liberal, it is all too easy to say that it is no big deal. But with all the indications already as to how the Obama administration is trying to remake America on many fronts, the time to begin alerting the public to the dangers is now.
Given the age and health of other Supreme Court justices, more replacements are likely during Obama's time in the White House. Time is an opportunity to mobilize public opinion and perhaps change the composition of the Senate that confirms judicial nominees.
But time by itself does nothing. It is what we do with time that matters.
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