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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 29, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Sotomayor nomination

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Barack Obama announces federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor is his choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Obama’s ploy to get re-elected

Editor, The Times:

I don’t know whether President Obama’s choice for Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, is someone who will uphold our Constitution to our benefit or try to rewrite it. What was obvious was that he was going to nominate a Hispanic woman.

You don’t suppose getting re-elected was a factor? I’d guess he already has his agents looking for a gay Muslim in case he gets to make another nomination.

I never cease to be amazed at how this country can deify Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and totally ignore his “dream” at every opportunity.

— Gary T. McGavran, Bellevue

Real issue is which values we want judge to represent

The widely accepted myth that the “rule of law” is neutral and that legal decisions should be devoid of personal values is absolute and total nonsense. If it were so, why would Justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts consistently reach decisions that reflect “conservative” values while, based on the same set of facts and the same legal issues, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer reach decisions that reflect “liberal” values?

If legal decision-making is “neutral,” those decisions would not be able to be predicted based on an individual’s political or social values. But, although there are exceptions, we all know that in general we can predict how a given judge will rule in a given case, and that on certain types of issues, Justice Scalia will reach a different decision from Justice Breyer.

Now, for purely political reasons, the Republicans are again trotting out the myth of value-neutral legal decision-making in an attempt to impugn Judge Sonia Sotomayor for bringing “empathy” into her decision-making process. Will someone please stand up and point out that Justices Roberts, Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito bring their conservative values and “empathy” into their decision-making.

The real issue isn’t with value neutrality or the “proper role of a judge.” The real issue is what values you want a judge to reflect in his or her decisions. Let’s be honest about this.

— Tom Armitage, Seattle

Many worries about judicial philosophy

I’m worried about President Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. I’m worried she won’t follow her judge’s oath, or the Constitution.

I love her life story and respect her achievements. I even like her smile, and pronouncing her name is kind of fun. But her judicial philosophy is wrong.

Every judge takes an oath to be unbiased and to treat everyone equally, whether rich or poor, brown or white. This oath states that judges must “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich” and rule “impartially.” A judge should rule without empathy or malice.

Yet Sotomayor is a follower of “legal realism” — a 20th-century judicial philosophy that says a judge should rule not from the law and Constitution, but from life experience. This is the “empathy” Obama wanted, a kind of psycho-sexual-social consciousness. Sotomayor thinks that a judge’s individual sex and race should inform her decisions. Legal realism says the law is indeterminate rather than constitutionally bedrocked until amended.

And empathy is the job of legislators, not judges. Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason: color blindness, objectivity, fairness. I worry that “empathy” is just code for favoritism and discrimination, like when Sotomayor ruled that minority firemen should be promoted over whites who did better on the test. I’m worried she’s a race-conscious affirmative actionist.

I worry Sotomayor supports racial quotas and doesn’t support gun rights. I worry she doesn’t want America to be a meritocracy –where advancement and success comes by hard work and talent, rather than through favoritism, birth, ethnicity or class — but a redistributor of wealth and rights.

I worry she’ll consider extrajudicial things like identity politics and group think. I worry she won’t protect the Constitution and individual rights. I worry she’ll “interpret” the Constitution by infusing it with “progressive consciousness” rather than enforcing it as written.

— Jeff E. Jared, Kirkland

Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy

Those who find fault with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor because she said she would be an “empathetic” judge confuse empathy with sympathy.

Empathy would seem an ideal quality for any objective official trying to fit uncertain legal principles — the only kind that get litigated — to the circumstances of an individual case. Sympathy, on the other hand, is better left to the clergy.

Those who confuse the words should consult their dictionaries, on pain of being thought either unschooled or tone deaf.

— William R. Andersen, Seattle

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