The Corner

The Empathy Canard

I write about it at my Washington Post discussion group:

In 2007 then-presidential candidate Barack Obama explained how he would pick federal judges: “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criterion by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”

Conservatives have typically countered that we should be looking for impartiality, not empathy, in judges. That is true, but it is probably a mistake politically for conservatives to make it easier for liberals to portray them as hostile to empathy. It is also unnecessary.

Note that the “empathy” Obama has in mind does not extend to black inner-city schoolkids who would like options beyond their failing  schools. Or gun owners, or small-business owners, or homeowners, all of whom have interests in Supreme Court litigation. Or, needless to say, unborn children: Obama made his remark at a Planned Parenthood event.

When President Obama says that he wants judges to have “empathy,” what he means is that he wants judges who are political liberals–and who allow their politics to influence their judicial decisions. Isn’t that what his quote really demonstrates?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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