Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Justice by the law

Federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated by President Obama to the United States Supreme Court. If confirmed, the highly qualified New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent will be the first Hispanic and only the third woman to sit on the federal bench.

The president had declared that he would be searching for an 'empathetic' justice. He seems to have found that with Sotomayor, who has contended publicly that she believes judges' life experiences should color their legal views.

Not surprisingly, conservative Republicans have taken up arms in criticism of this nominee and her view of her judicial role. Their argument: the law is to applied according to the letter; not interpreted through personal frames of reference.

At the risk of having my party card revoked, I agree with the conservatives on this one. The outcomes of cases before the Supreme Court should not depend on whether the justices can personally relate to the plaintiffs or the defendants arguing before them. The High Court's rulings affect Americans across the country of every hue, racial background and socioeconomic status. To make personal perspectives fair for all, the Supreme Court would need to represent every ethnicity, income level and psychology. It is only in the strictest application of the law that we can be assured that all of our interests are protected. The only issue of interest to the justices - and to every judge - should be which of the arguing parties meets its burden of proof or presents the best argument according to the law. I feel safer when only those factors are at play. I suppose though, that if even that (the very letter of the law) were not debatable there would be need for only one Supreme Justice, not nine.

Going by the word of the pundits and talking heads that have come out to babble since Tuesday morning, Sotomayor is all but confirmed to be Supreme Justice Sotomayor. I hope she serves with distinction and wears the robe without consideration for from whence she came, because "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences" does not necessarily "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." (Paraphrase from Judge Sonia Sotomayor) That is why we all rely on the colorless, unempathetic and blind law.

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