Filed under: Freedom, Law, The Constitution | Tags: Justice, Liberty, The Court
Lady Justice is the symbol of the judiciary. She carries three symbols of the rule of law: a sword symbolizing the court’s coercive power, scales representing the weighing of competing claims, and a blindfold indicating impartiality. This particular representation says:
Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civilized society. It ever has been, ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.
The judicial oath required of every federal judge and justice says “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I…will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me… under the Constitution and laws of the United States, so help me God.
President Obama has a record of statements on justice. On September 2005, on the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, Obama said:
What matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.
During a July 17, 2007 appearance at a Planned Parenthood conference:
We need somebody who’s got the heart to recognize — 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 criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.
During a Democratic primary debate on November 25, 2007, Obama was asked whether he would insist that any nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court supported abortion rights for women:
I would not appoint someone who doesn’t believe in the right to privacy…I taught constitutional law for 10 years, and when you look at what makes a great Supreme Court justice, it’s not just the particular issue and how they ruled. But it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don’t have a lot of clout.
During a May 1, 2009 press briefing:
Now the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president, so I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.
“Empathy” is the word that has caused so much concern. For empathy has no place in jurisprudence. Federal judges swear an oath to administer justice without respect to persons. If they are to feel more partial to the “young teenage mom,” the “disabled,” the “African-American,” the “gay,” the “old,” then they are not and cannot be impartial, and the rule of law counts for nothing. The “depth and breadth of one’s empathy” is exactly what the judicial oath insists that judges renounce. That impartiality is what guarantees equal protection under the law.
That is what the blindfold is all about.